MR. GREENS "FRESH TIPS"
November 2, 2001
Our last PRODUCE MAN PUZZZZLE dealt with Mini Pumpkins: What caused the Mini Pumpkin to be grown in the United States? Of course, we know that it is the sun and water that make things grow. But the fun story about the mini-pumpkin is the "why" behind it. It seems like itís a story right out of Garrison Keelerís "Prairie Home Companion." Just ask Phil Foster. He was the original commercial grower of mini-pumpkins, from Huntington, Indiana. It was in the mid 1980s. Phil had seen an Asian farmer grow a few of these little pumpkins, so he started searching for the seed variety. He searched through all the seed catalogs, but could not find these mini pumpkins. He then searched in Asian seed catalogs, where he finally located the seed variety. He ordered just enough for a few rows in his pumpkin and cantaloupe field. "When I finally cut them," Foster tells us, "I took them with me to the Evanston Farmerís Market, just outside of Chicago. I really didnít expect to sell them. In fact, I wanted them just for my display." To discourage purchases, Phil put up a sign that read, "Miniature Pumpkins: $1 each." He thought that would keep people from buying them. And for the most part, Phil was right. People picked up this miniature pumpkin, looked at it, glanced at the price, smiled, and then put it down. One such "look-e-loo" came back several times. Finally, before the market closed for the day, this customer returned and purchased the entire stock of mini pumpkins, at $1 each. This customer then asked the farmer to grow even more the next year. You see, this customer owned a chain of florist stores. He wanted these mini-pumpkins for his Fall floral arrangements. By the way, he was an FTD florist. The first major commercial crop of mini-pumpkins grown in the United States was for FTD florists. And now you know, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story." The mini-pumpkin is more than just a pretty addition into a floral arrangement. In fact, Sunset Magazine says that the Jack Be Little Mini-Pumpkin is the best tasting of all the hard winter squash. What a great addition onto your menu. Serve a pumpkin soup or custard right in the shell. Or simply bake them, add some butter, cinnamon, brown sugar to the inside. What a great side dish. This weekís PUZZZZLE deals with apples: What was the first apple exported from the United States? See next weekís "Fresh Tips" for the answer.
LETTUCE: Most iceberg supplies have now shifted to the Huron growing region, just south of Bakersfield. There are only a few growers remaining in production in Salinas. Quality from Huron has been pretty typical: a wide range of quality. From Huron, it is true that you get what you pay for. Some lots are very marginal at best with discounted pricing. Premium quality iceberg lettuce is also demanding premium prices. Recent rains in California will mean more mud and dirt both on the product.
SPRING MIX SALAD: This time of year is very critical to Spring Mix salad suppliers. The tiny lettuces and other greens used in Spring Mix, because of their size, are very susceptible to adverse weather. These lettuces and greens are so low to the ground, that any amount of rain or wind can easily damage the delicate leaves. Also, cold temperatures can weaken the leaves. The finished Spring Mix Salad is only as good as the raw product going into that salad. If the raw product is weak, then the finished product will also be weak. Growers are sorting more, and being much more careful with the quality of product going into the mix. Shelf life could be shorter as well, so it would be wise to order more conservatively, handle product very gently, store it properly, and use it quickly.
FRESH-CUT PRODUCE: Very much like Spring Mix Salads, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables this time of year need to be dealt with differently. If you have just run a marathon, you would be pretty tired. Well, most raw product for fresh-cut produce, is tired. The fields are older, putting out weaker product. The adverse weather combines to add more stress to the plants, which magnifies the weakness of the product. The product is more susceptible to bruising and damage. Fresh-cut processors are sorting through more raw product just to get enough quality product for processing. When you buy fresh-cut salads, fruits or vegetables, be sure to refrigerate it immediately. And handle it like fine china. Donít bang it around. Set it down gently. Itíll last longer that way. And use it quickly. It wonít last as long.
STRAWBERRIES: Options are getting few and far between. It looks like November will be one of the highest strawberry priced months. A few very hot stretches of weather in the summer stressed out strawberry plants in Watsonville. Those "stressed-out" plants are not handling recent rains very well, which means the plants are putting out less fruit, smaller fruit, weaker fruit. Most growers in Watsonville are basically finished for the season. They usually stay in production into late November. Florida growers wonít be into production until late November, mostly early December. New-crop California fields wonít start up until December, mostly early January. There are a few fields still in harvest in Oxnard, but not nearly enough to meet demand. Imports from New Zealand have already begun, but prices are very high and the packages are smaller. Buy with caution and use quickly.
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