May 08, 2015

Chokes and Asparagus:
Supply Challenged
for These May Favorites

Here we are in May and we’re looking at the approach of desert artichokes, sweet red cherries and stone fruit while enjoying Washington asparagus and California sweet corn.

For the first time in my 38 years in the fresh produce business, we’re seeing a lack of abundance of Green Globe Artichokes from Castroville, Calif. There are still ‘chokes available but we never really got that great value in the giant artichokes that we’ve typically seen in the past. We hear the acreage growing this particular variety had to be cut way down, and that costs more than doubled over last year due to the spring’s high demands and lower supply.

That’s the fresh world. We are now moving into the desert artichokes (even though these are nice and big, I favor the traditional Castroville Green Globe Artichoke!).

Washington asparagus is another crop for which demand continues to outstrip supply. The quality has been outstanding and growers are enjoying high demand for their product from just about everywhere within shipping limits, which these days is just about anywhere in the world. There still are several weeks left in the Washington season and with warmer spring temperatures over the next few weeks, I’m holding out hope that supply will pick up and costs drop off. As soon as that happens, we’ll pass that on to you.

Random fact – it takes up to 110 gallons of fresh water to produce a single pound of asparagus!

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G&S Farms’ sweet corn from Southern California’s Coachella Valley is in our markets. It’s as tender and sweet as ever. G&S starts the season in the Coachella Valley where early warm weather brings corn on about four weeks before the Brentwood area, which is just east of San Francisco. The problem with Coachella is that it gets so hot just before Memorial Day weekend that it can compromise the eating quality of the corn. G&S goes to great lengths to make the transition from Coachella to Brentwood as smooth of as possible to ensure that our sweet corn is always freshly harvested. We offer white, yellow and bi-color varieties in our markets, although not all of those are always available. White is always first in any new growing area, followed by yellow and then bi-color brings up the rear. Glenn at G&S Farms starts planting corn in early February and then plants every other day all the way through June. That practice ensures he can harvest their sweet corn fresh daily. And G&S corn is always hand-picked – never machine harvested.  

Our first sweet red cherries of the season arrive this coming week from California. We’ve held back for nearly two weeks to avoid early varieties that just don’t eat well. This variety is one of the first whose quality and taste we feel confident about. These are 9.5 row size (row size is how cherries are measured for size – the bigger the number the smaller the cherry). California allows cherries as small as 12-row to be packed and sold in fresh markets. Only about 15 percent of the cherry crop makes it to 9.5 row or larger depending on variety.

We follow the cherry season as it unfolds by variety from California all the way north through Washington and our Okanogan Valley where we finish up the season in late July or early August. As a general rule, we try to stay with the biggest cherries with the best color and texture all season long. The California season will hit its stride over the next two or three weeks. It looks like the Washington season will be early this year. Look for the first Northwest-grown dark red cherries to arrive very early in June and peak around the 4th of July holiday. Rainier cherries should arrive in mid-June.

Last but not least, we will start to take a look at some peaches, nectarines, plumcots and apricots leading up to Memorial Day weekend. We have stayed away from early fruit because we haven’t seen or tasted any yet that we think will meet expectations (yours and ours) for a good eating experience.

Have a great week! Joe

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