Now that we’re solidly into March and heading for Easter Sunday, it’s a good time to peek at what is on the fresh produce horizon.
Blueberries! The new crop of blueberries from Mexico has finally arrived in our markets under the “River Run” label by Family Tree Farms of California. These are their “pollinator” blueberries, grown at the start of the Mexican growing season to pollinate their proprietary varieties. The organic version of these blueberries has been in the markets for a few weeks and they continue to taste great.
The newly arrived blueberries eat great now and will get even better as we move into Family Tree’s next variety later this month. It’s possible we’ll see enough volume with those blueberries that we’ll be able to put them on sale – and they’ll provide great quality for Easter (April 1).
Strawberries! In the strawberry world, we’ve been offering California-grown berries since early January. Now we’ve moved to newer growing areas in California and the berries are big and sweet. Supply is just a bit on the tight side, but looks to be improving. We expect to have a great supply as we move toward April. Raspberry supplies have been very tight because of cool nights in recent weeks. What we can get is very good quality, however – particularly the organic ones.
Grapes! When it comes to grapes, we’re starting to see some of the best varieties roll into the markets. In fact, this is the season when we get so many varieties in rapid succession that we can’t even keep up with identifying every variety on our signs. One of those is a red seedless grape called “Jacksolute,” an exceptional grape notable for its rich, dark color; large size; and crispness. They’ll be here soon!
For green seedless grapes, we have the extra-large, sweet “Sugarone,” which is great but not as crunchy as the next variety on deck – “Pristine.” This is one of my favorite grapes and easy to spot because they are distinctively large and longer than they are round. Oh, and the bag calls out the name, too. Pristine sets the grape-eating expectation bar very high for all grapes!
Last but not least is the Muscat grape. In the markets now, these aren’t exactly the prettiest grape or the crunchiest, but their flavor is off the charts.
Bottom line? If you could only eat grapes for one month out of the year, this would be the one to choose – we’ll have fantastic eating red, green and black seedless grapes well into April.
Citrus! Citrus continues to peak this month. You can’t go wrong with just about anything in the citrus category. Seedless navel and Cara Cara oranges just don’t get any better – both the organic and conventionally grown. As for Sumo mandarins, I’m afraid we’re on the downhill side of the harvest. But those in our markets are at peak eating quality and I’m sure we’ll keep that going through that first holiday weekend in April. Another mandarin variety that starts arriving next week is the Gold Nugget. They’re not quite as large as the Sumo, but they eat great and have a flavor all their own. Closer to Easter, we should see the Suki Gold Nugget mandarins arrive. This variety has been harvested and packed in such a way to allow for acid and sugar levels to balance before shipping. This makes for a consistently great eating experience.
Chokes. We had a quick shot of jumbo artichokes last week. Unfortunately, they’re gone and we’re in a “frost market” on coastal green globe artichokes for the next few weeks. A frost market means costs are up and what we can get would have frost damage, which makes them ugly but doesn’t affect taste. We’re looking for the market to correct itself as we move into April. In fact, we’re hoping for a great artichoke season to make up for the artichokes that never materialized during the spring of last year.
Mangos! Let’s talk mangos. We’ve chosen to focus on the Ataulfo, a variety of yellow mango in both organic and conventionally grown – both are eating fantastic! On the conventional side, we partner with the grower Ciruli Brothers, who patented the name “Champagne” for his conventionally grown Ataulfos in order to differentiate his fruit from other yellow mangos. It’s a good call because this grower does mangos right – they’re creamy, sweet and bursting with tropical flavor. The champagne runs smaller than other varieties, so we’re careful to buy the biggest we can and get the volume we need. Look for fruit that is fully yellow and has a slight wrinkling of its skin. If you want mangos for now and for a few days ahead, pick slightly wrinkled ones for today and tomorrow and the full yellow with smooth skin to set on the counter until they begin to wrinkle. That wrinkling indicates falling acid levels, which make the sugar more available to your taste buds. We should be in the champagne mango business through April and into May. Look for several sales over the next several weeks.
Avocados! We’re seeing avocado supplies out of Mexico shrink, and we’re getting just a trickle out of California. We need increased oil content in the Hass avocados to levels to create that creamy eating experience for which the Hass is famous. Oil content always reaches optimal levels in the smaller fruit first with the larger ones ramping up a few weeks later.
Asparagus! And then there is asparagus. Mexico’s spring season is winding down, having peaked a few weeks ago. We’re starting to see volume pick up in California growing areas but Easter holiday demand is putting pressure on what is available. Let’s hope for warm weather in California (particularly night-time temperatures) to speed up production. This will help fill the demand and hopefully see volume at levels we can promote and place on sale. Our best guess for Washington asparagus is mid-April for the transition from California.
Have a great week and if you don’t hear from me beforehand,have a wonderful holiday with family and friends. — Joe