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NW Berries Nearer
as we Move into May

Berries. The last time we talked, I said I thought we were out of the woods on California strawberries. I was wrong.

Black and Rasp BerriesWe have continued to struggle with cool, wet weather in California strawberry fields. In particular, it’s been difficult to get the quantity we would like to have in the organic strawberries. We’ve decided to stay with Well-Pict brand in organic strawberries because we truly believe they have the superior fruit that simply eats better than other labels. That’s well and good, but we just can’t get enough to satisfy our needs. I’m hopeful that things will improve as we move into May – which is only days away.

We’ve enjoyed fresh, Mexican blueberries of excellent quality lately. Mexico may sound far away, but it’s actually much closer to home than recent alternatives like Chile. And now we’re getting our first California blueberries as we ease into May. We may still need to get some from Mexico in the short term, but our goal is to be 100 percent California-grown by Mother’s Day (May 8).

Even closer to home are early reports that the Oregon and Washington blueberry seasons may be early this year. So look for a new crop of Oregon blueberries in early June and Washington following just a few short weeks later.

I’ll be heading to Mount Vernon on May 19 to tour the Northwest strawberry crop, currently forecast for a very late May or early June start. Northwest strawberries have a short two- or three-week season, so once they start, look for the peak to arrive the following week. And, sadly, it’s all over by the end of the third week. While I’m in Mount Vernon, I’ll also tour the upcoming Washington organic raspberry and blueberry crop. I’ll let you know how those are looking on my next update.

blackberries in bloom

The blackberry bushes at Jake Steino’s farm in Puyallup are already blooming – a very good sign for the upcoming season.

Last but not least in the berry category, I was in Puyallup last Friday, April 22, visiting grower Jake Sterino’s farm to get a look at his blackberry, raspberry and variety berry crop for this year. I have to say everything looks great at this point. The blackberries are already starting to bloom and the red raspberries are starting to bud. This is great news especially when you consider that last year, we saw virtually no Northwest raspberries. Jake seems to think we’re going to have a great season in blackberries and red raspberries this year to make up for a lousy 2015. I will have more information on the Northwest variety berry season as we move closer to June.

Washington asparagus will be peaking over the next few weeks. The quality and flavor have been excellent. But this will not last forever. We expect the Washington asparagus season to begin winding down as we approach Memorial Day (May 38-30).

Farms are loading up their Vidalia sweet onions to arrive next week as the Mayan Sweet Onions come to an end. Vidalias are the sweet onion of choice for the months of May and June. Walla Walla sweet onions will start to arrive in late June. Speaking of Walla Walla sweets, we have the bunched spring Walla Walla sweets arriving this weekend in our markets.

We’re adding three new Stuffed Mushrooms varieties this coming week in our Produce Markets. Many of you have tried the Parmesan with Artichoke Heart Stuffed Mushrooms over the past several months. They’ve been such a hit we’re adding three flavors of stuffed Baby Bella Mushrooms – Garlic/Kale, Smoked Goat Cheese and – my favorite – “Loaded Baked.” Believe it or not, these taste just like loaded baked potatoes without the bacon – but it’s a mushroom. They all grill or bake very well and make excellent appetizers or a great side to any chicken, beef or seafood meal.

We’ve had an excellent artichoke season this year. The Jumbo, 12-count size, have been abundant over the past three weeks and it looks like that will continue for another week into the Mother’s Day holiday. But eat your fill now as we expect this to wind down fast as we move through May.

Last but definitely not least – Champagne mangos. We’re just moving into the peak of the season for these yellow mangos that have been in the markets over the past several weeks. This variety is a relatively small-sized mango, although we buy the largest available. This is one of those items for which ugly is best. You may think that bright yellow means ripe and it kind of does, but it does NOT mean ready! Smooth skin and full yellow fruit will still have a citrusy flavor, but once the skin of the fruit actually wrinkles, the creamy, sweet, tropical flavor really comes out. If you have never experienced a fully ripe Champagne mango, you are in for a real treat. If you would like to try a sample just ask one of our team members, they would be glad to let you try a bite. The skin is not edible and please do not refrigerate mangos while still whole! Cut fruit must be refrigerated, though. Mangos not only taste great, but are also high in Vitamin C, reduce cholesterol and improve digestion among many other health benefits. Mangos can be served all by themselves or mixed with your favorite berry. I personally like fresh-cut mangos served over cottage cheese.  Our culinary coordinators have put together their list of easy, wonderful mango recipes, which I recommend. And they’ve made a video about how to cut them without mangling them, which I also appreciate!

Have a great week – Joe

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