I can’t believe the 4th of July weekend is just around the corner! Before you know it we’ll be talking Hatch Chile Roasting and Labor Day… but for now let’s talk about what’s happening in produce now and on the horizon.
First, let’s talk local berries. The June Northwest strawberry season is winding down. We had a couple rough spots this season with all the rain we had a week or so ago, but overall it’s been a great crop. We may have a couple more shots of berries as we finish out this week, but Hayton Farms is all but done for the year on their June-bearing fruit. We are in our second year with Our Family Farm in the Mount Vernon area. They grow an Albion everbearing variety that tastes great and has good shelf life, making it easier to keep a steady supply (barring heavy rain, of course). The Albion variety produces very well in June, takes a break for the month of July, gets a second wind in August and comes on strong as we enter September. This is great because we get to support local farmers for a longer season and the grower is able to generate the return needed to sustain their operations.
While strawberries pause for July, we get to enjoy a rainbow of berries from Sterino Farms—raspberries, blackberries, tayberries, gooseberries and currants. Gold raspberries and tayberries are in the markets, but supplies are limited. They’re delivered each morning around 10 a.m., and often sell out by the end of the day. Next crop to be harvest is the obsidian blackberry—in my opinion, this is the best blackberry of the year. They’re extra-large berries with relatively tiny seeds and oh so sweet! Once Jake Sterino starts picking the floodgates open with peak production in about a week. We’re taking a gamble and will offer a hot deal on these starting July 1… now we just need Mother Nature to cooperate. The obsidian crop comes all at once and is over quickly so enjoy them while you can! Jake will harvest other great-tasting blackberry varieties all the way into September.
Look for currants and gooseberries to start any day now and the red raspberry wild start trickling in by July 1. Of course, all of this is “best guess,” as weather can change everything in an instant. Northwest blueberries have already started and will just increase in supply over the next few weeks. Washington-grown blueberries will come on strong during the month of July but should run well into late August. July is the best month to preserve blueberries as these are the best varieties of the year.
Life’s a Bowl of NW Cherries
The next harvest to talk about are Northwest cherries. In general, we are off to a tough start even though we’ve had excellent-quality fruit in the markets. This has not been an easy task. That wild weather that came through Western Washington a couple weeks ago also went through the eastern side of the state, at what could be considered the worst possible time for cherry growers. As cherries get closer to harvest, rain is not good because it causes the fruit to suck up water so fast it splits. When a crop has a high percentage of damaged fruit is slows the sorting line to a crawl and increases cost. As for Rainier cherries, a high wind can wipe out an entire crop because the skin is so delicate that the rubbing of a leaf will cause bruising. Rainier cherries eat best when they are extra-large in size and have a good red blush. If the fruit is mostly yellow with little or no red blush it will have very little flavor and almost no sweetness. For this reason we do not play around with grades when it comes to Rainier cherries, let alone any cherry we offer. The season is so short, just a few quick weeks… so why risk disappointment? One other factor affecting the Rainier cherry is social distancing in the packing sheds as they cannot be sorted mechanically. It takes several workers on the sorting line culling and sorting by hand to pack these cherries, so the sheds have had to spread out on behalf of the health and safety of their team.
Sweet, dark-red cherries were also affected by the recent wild weather but should recover as we move into July and the late-season varieties. If you remember last year we had big, crisp and sweet Gunkel Private Reserve red cherries for the July 4th holiday. This year Gunkel Orchards had wind gusts up to 100 miles per hour and rain around the same time as everyone else, but Dan has done a great job of recovering. They’re not as plentiful as last year, but we’re getting all he has. Darren at Pacific Coast Fruit says they are excellent!
Stone Fruit and Melons are Rolling In
In stone fruit, we’ll have the Robada Apricot from Gunkel Orchards for a few more days. This is an awesome apricot, but it was also affected by those high winds which basically blew about half the crop off the trees. The other stone fruit worth mentioning is the honey nectarine from California. This is a sub-acid variety, meaning it has lower acid levels and is super sweet.
We are now getting our first arrivals of cantaloupe and orange-flesh honeydew from Turlock Farms. I believe they are the best melon grower to be found, and the Smith family are one of the last if not the cantaloupe growers to grow a full-slip variety cantaloupe. What this means is the melons are only ready when the vine easily slips off the melon, and requires the field to be harvested several times to select only the vine-ripened fruit. I think their cantaloupe are consistently sweeter than other varieties. As for the orange honeydew, it is hands down one of the best melons you will eat all year. This melon is super-sweet and often ugly is best! It’s ready when the skin starts to turn slightly yellow-orange and begins to feel just a bit sticky. Often it has blemishes, which is why I say ugly is only skin deep!
Sweet Corn and Sweet Onions
So what’s up with sweet corn? It’s been a rough year so far with supply and gaps between growing regions, and social distancing is also having an impact. Especially with our partner grower, G&S Farms, where one ear per stalk is hand-harvested to ensure best quality. In order to properly distance during harvest and packing, the workers must spread out which slows the process. And yet we will have great quality and value for this holiday.
Last but not least… You just have to have a big Walla Walla sweet onion on that burger for the holiday! We should have them through the month of July. Speaking of burgers off the grill, if you are a tomato fan I believe the TastiLee slicing tomato is the best one out there.
Have a happy Independence Day holiday, enjoy family and friends, and be safe!