We’re on the downward side of the Tango mandarins that we talked about last time and, as promised, the Nugget mandarins have arrived in all of our markets. They are the peak of their flavor.
This mandarin honors the saying “Ugly is only skin deep” – or is that “Beauty is only skin deep?” Regardless, this fruit eats better than it looks. Its coarse exterior is easy to peel and hides one of the best-tasting mandarins of the year. Not only are they sweet and seedless, but they have a rich, aromatic flavor. We should have a good supply and excellent quality for the next three to four weeks. Along with the Nuggets, we have several other citrus offerings that also are at their peak of flavor like Cara Cara and Heirloom navel oranges.
Cara Cara is a mutation that occurred on a Washington navel orange tree – Washington being a variety of navel orange, not the state. The mutation was accidentally discovered in 1976 at Hacienda Cara Cara, an orange farm in Venezuela. From Venezuela, it was brought to Florida in 1988 and then introduced into California, where it is well adapted. The reddish color flesh is high in lycopene and low in acid with a sweet, rich, aromatic flavor. The Heirloom navel is more of a traditional variety of seedless orange with a deep orange flesh. It’s higher in acid than the Cara Cara, which is why this variety is allowed to hang on the tree longer in order to reach a higher sugar level to offset the acid. The high sugar and acid ratio is why this orange has such great sweet flavor.
Just a quick update on where we are at in this asparagus season. We generally source asparagus out of Peru during November and December and then move to Mexico ASAP in January. The whole intention is to move as close to home as is possible as soon as possible. We’ve been getting great quality conventional asparagus from Mexico, and soon (like within the next two weeks) will be able to move to California-grown conventional asparagus. We were already able to move to California for our organic asparagus because those growing areas are farther south in California, and thus start earlier.
We see us making the move even closer to home shortly! Our best guess right now is for Washington asparagus to start around April 15 – I’ll update you as we get closer.
When it comes to artichokes, we’re hoping for a better year than last year when we didn’t have much of a spring season. We’re just starting to see volumes gradually pick up and are hoping it will be enough to be able to promote them as we move into early April.
On the tropical side of things, Hawaiian gold pineapples are at their peak of the season and it’s been an awesome year! Look for excellent quality and sweet flavor throughout March. Along with pineapple, we have Champagne mangos, a typically smaller variety. As a rule, we purchase the largest sizes available in this yellow variety. Champagne is a trademarked name from Ciruli Brothers, an importer/exporter that partners with specific growers in Mexico and Arizona. They have a high criteria for quality in order to be sold under their name. This fruit has a fantastic sweet, tropical flavor and eats best when the skin is full yellow in color and begins to have a slight wrinkle. This variety is available from early March through mid-May and will peak in the month of April. If you have never tried this variety we would be happy to sample on for you – just ask!
Last week I went to Mount Vernon to meet with our local berry grower to review last year and look forward to the coming season. This will be our second year with this new grower and it looks like it’s going to be a good season. They expect to have an abundant harvest in their Totem variety strawberries. At this early date it looks like the organic blackberries and blueberries weathered the winter well. This will be the first year they will have certified organically grown red raspberries and – so far – everything looks great! The sad news was that we were looking forward to a certified organic strawberry they planted last year. We all expected them to be abundant this coming season, but right now it looks like those didn’t fare well over the winter. Such is nature.
Look for the Northwest strawberry season to kick off around June 1, followed by blackberries and then raspberries and blueberries. I am planning another visit up to the farm in May and will update you then.
Until next time, enjoy! – Joe