Thanksgiving is here and I, for one, am thankful for so much. I’m especially thankful for the entire community at Town & Country Markets, with which I have the privilege and good fortune to be connected. The families, fellow workers, associates, growers and shippers who work together all year long to bring such great fresh produce into our markets are a true gift. Most of all I am thankful for all of you, our guests, without whom there would be no point to it all. You and your families are at the core of our greater community. I wish all of you a happy and joyful holiday with friends and family.
Now a little update of the good and bad in the fresh markets for this holiday … challenges first so we can get them out of our way! As some of you may or may not know, the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday is always a challenge when it comes to fresh row-crop vegetables. This is the time of year, give or take a week or two, when the California growing area winds down or completely ends and we rely on the desert growing areas in Arizona and Mexico to supply our needs for high-quality vegetables for the Thanksgiving holiday meal.
This year we are in a particularly challenging situation in a few areas. This transitional time has been compounded by the hurricane that hit the Pacific Coast of Mexico about a month ago. It was great news that it broke up quickly and was not as bad as it could have been. But as the storm broke up, it traveled through Mexico, Texas and Arizona and the heavy rain caused flash flooding, damaging or even wiping out many of the row crops that would be producing for the coming week. The crops most effected are leafy greens, lettuces, cauliflower, celery, broccoli and green beans. Quality has been and will continue to be a challenge. Our partners at Pacific Coast Fruit, Organically Grown Company and Northwest Specialty Produce are working extra hard to find and secure the quality we expect to provide for you and your dinner table. Some of these items they are picking up daily, evaluating quality and even going back the very next day if it is not right. So real quick here is the best info I have as of today:
Fresh organic green beans are in short supply because the one grower who does have great quality just doesn’t have enough and the other labels we have looked at just do not belong in the markets. We will have these but just not as many as we hoped for. We had some conventional green beans from California very recently, but we rejected them due to quality issues. Then we learned that a new crop of beans out of Mexico would arrive a day late (today). The good news is that today’s arrival – the conventional at least – is of excellent quality. Sadly, we had to reject the organic.
We think we’ll have enough French beans to get through the holiday. The buyer has let me know they will be sending a truck into the supplier to pick up all they can each day this week.
In lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and celery it looks like we’ll be OK as well. Fortunately, we made commitments in September with specific shippers to lock in supply through the winter. This is going to pay off big time! For this holiday, we’ll still have to work though some quality issues, but half the battle is won just getting what we need.
Organic Brussels sprouts are nearly a total loss due to an aphid problem in the south. The good news is that it looks like we will have plenty of conventionally farmed Brussels sprouts. This may not be an option if you had your meal planned around an all-organic menu. But it is great to know that we will have what has become one of the most popular side vegetables for this holiday.
The last big problem has been in asparagus. It’s all imported at this time of year and, for some reason, we’re having a really tough time getting the quality we expect this year. We have received and rejected product from three different countries and from several different growers. Each day we try again because we are just not happy with what has been arriving. A completely different label arrived Friday and we were disappointed once again. So each day we try – and we’ll keep trying.
Well so much for the bad news. Let’s hear some good news!
Fresh cranberries from Cape Blanco are excellent and in great supply. This is a premium Northwest grower who does an exceptional job growing, harvesting and delivering a bigger, sweeter berry than the national brand.
Apples and pears are at their peak with several great varieties to choose from. The Opal and Envy apples are two of my favorites. Along with the Granny Smith for those of you who are making a traditional Granny Smith Apple Pie for dessert.
We have a few choices in mandarin oranges as well. The first is the Cutie clementine mandarin on Big Board Buys right now. The other is the Family Tree Farms satsuma mandarin. Of all the labels currently available, I believe Family Tree hit a home run with theirs this year. They are the best satsumas in the market right now because they have a particularly good spot for growing early satsumas. This area is near Kettleman Hills, Calif. This area is slightly higher in elevation, which creates a micro climate that produces a high color, sweeter mandarin earlier than other growing areas.
Seedless grapes are holding up very well this year. We count ourselves lucky just to have them for Thanksgiving, and this year the quality and supply have been stellar. Still crisp and very sweet.
In mushrooms we have all the traditional white and brown varieties. The brown crimini seems to be the more popular of the two for this holiday. We also still have wild Chanterelle mushrooms available in the markets along with all the other varieties we usually offer.
Fresh herbs really pick up during the holiday weeks and we spend extra time studying movement from the previous year to do our best not to run short at the last minute. Like I say, we really do our best to not run short, but every year one or another seems to surprise us. So don’t delay. The Herb Bird Kit is back and this complete fresh herb kit for poultry is our most popular!
Something new in the markets is the Eat Smart 28-oz. Sweet Kale Salad Kit. This is the larger version of the 12-oz. kit we’ve offered for several months. This particular kit has been one of the most popular with its dried cranberries, nuts and dressing. This larger kit serves 4 to 8 people, but personally I think it is so good that I would plan on serving only 4. If you end up with leftovers, lucky you. I think it’s even better the next day.
The hard squash category held out. Earlier in the year I was concerned that because all these autumn squashes were nearly a month early that we might struggle for The Thanksgiving holiday. That will not be the case. We have plenty available in conventionally grown and organic. Butternut is most popular for this holiday and we have it available whole or in our fresh-cut vegetables section in 20- and 32-oz. containers if that helps speed things up in the kitchen. We also have a new variety called a butterkin. This is from the butternut family, but takes on some very nice pumpkin like flavor!
All potatoes and onions are solid for this holiday. We struggled a bit with the larger Yukon gold potatoes that many prefer for mashing. But we will have plenty of great quality, standard size Yukons. Of course sweet potatoes and fingerling potatoes are plentiful. Something new in onions this year are the fresh-peeled pearl onions, cipollini onions, shallots and garlic cloves from Christopher Ranch. If your time is limited, this may be a great option.
That’s about it.
Sorry for the doom and gloom in the beginning. I have faith in our partners that everything is going to work out great as we move through this week. Again THANK YOU for all your support all year long. We are truly blessed to have the opportunity to serve you and your family!
Have a great holiday! Joe