|Jonathan: the son
of the Spitzenburg
|Spitzenburg: the dad of
JONATHAN APPLES (Monday, October 11): I love this
time of year. You walk into the produce department, and just about
every week, another new variety of apple is coming into harvest.
We started with new crop Gala apples in August, then Gravensteins,
and now, the first red apple available in the Fall, one of my very
favorite apples…the Jonathan. What? You have never heard of
a Jonathan? You must try them. Thomas Jefferson loved apples. His
very favorite apple was the Esopus Spitzenburg. Some growers affectionately
call it simply…Spitzenburg. Even today, in taste tests around
the world, the Spitzenburg wins, every time! It’s not commercially
grown any more. You can find them at some farmer’s markets
in some parts of the country. The Esopus Spitzenburg, however, does
have offspring. The first generation from the Spitzenburg is…you
guessed it…the Jonathan. It’s the closest thing we have
to the Spitzenburg. The initial fame of Woodstock, New York, in
Ulster County. That’s where the Jonathan variety was discovered
as a chance seedling in the 1820s. It received its name from the
man who found it and first promoted it. This crimson apple (with
touches of green) has a spicy tang that blends well with other varieties
in sauces and ciders. Also an excellent general eating apple. The
skin of the Jonathan is thinner than some other varieties, so it’s
great for your little kids in school, especially those little ones
who have some loose teeth.
|Vegetable crops are second
value in Florida only to Citrus crops
ROW CROP VEGETABLES (Tuesday, October 12): Agricultural
losses are topping $3 billion so far in Florida. The media focus
of crop damage in Florida has been Oranges and Grapefruit. Citrus
isn’t the only crop that was hammered by four hurricanes,
Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Row crop vegetables also took
a beating. This includes crops like Bell Peppers, Cucumbers, Eggplant,
Green Beans, Squash and Tomatoes. In Florida, where about half of
the winter row crops are grown for the United States, growers were
just preparing soil with plastic, after they dodged a bullet called
Hurricane Charley. Most growers expressed relief that Charley hit
when it did…before a lot of soil prep and crop planting had
been done. Charley delayed planting schedules about one week. But
then along came Frances. Growers who had started the soil prep and
laying plastic and irrigation lines lost all of that work…and
the cost associated with it. So growers frantically once again began
soil prep, laying plastic and irrigation and putting tiny transplants
into the fields. Then along came Ivan and Jeanne. Now growers throughout
southern and central Florida had to wait even more for rains to
stop so that pumps could drain the floodwaters from these storms.
Growers had to wait for dry weather to help dry the land, allowing
growers to get tractors into the fields to first, re-laser level
the fields for drainage, prepare the soil, and finally lay the plastic
and irrigation drip lines. The record number of storms has meant
about a 4 – 6 week delay in the planting schedule. Whenever
you disrupt the planting schedule, you also disrupt the harvest
schedule. Because of this long delay, this will push harvest right
back to the holidays, which will mean very tight supplies during
the strongest demand of the year, the holiday season. Thanksgiving
will be the most affected. Most of these crops are 60 – 90
day crops, from planting to harvest. Some of these crops usually
begin harvest in mid-to-late October, reaching peak supplies well
|Growers in the Homestead
growing region finally have their fields under plastic, new
transplants are in the ground,
and they are now providing
the first irrigation, about 4 – 6 weeks late
But now, because of so much delay, lack of power, lack of farm
workers, many growers in Florida say that harvest will be pushed
back right into the first week of December, missing the Thanksgiving
demand. If weather cooperates from here on out, growers could pick
up some time, but it will still be close for the holidays. This
will put demand pressure on Mexican-grown row crop vegetables. In
the state of Sinaloa, growers are doing the same thing as Florida
growers, preparing soil, laying plastic and putting tiny seedlings
into the ground. The storms also ended most of the Fall production
of row crop vegetables in Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio
and into New Jersey. That has meant a very quick end to supplies
for most of the East Coast, sending East Coast buyers to the West
Coast for produce, and that has led to very sharp increases in prices.
Expect October and November to be very volatile months for produce
prices and supplies. Don’t change your menu for Thanksgiving.
It’s still a very special holiday time with friends and family.
You’ll just pay more for it.
|The Valley of Ica at the
base of the Andes Mountains produces more Asparagus than anywhere
in the world.
ASPARAGUS (Wednesday, October 13): Not all of
the problems with produce deals with crops in Florida. Some have
to do with produce grown in other regions of the world, but are
air-shipped into Florida. Miami International Airport is the primary
East Coast place of import for Asparagus being flown in from Chile
and Peru. From the Valley of Ica, just south of Lima, Peru, fields
of Asparagus are in full production, but because of logistics problems
at the Miami International Airport, those fresh spears are having
a tough time entering the U.S. That has delayed imports, causing
some slight price spikes. Fortunately, the impact is only for a
short time. Miami International Airport was closed only for a period
of 18 – 24 hours during each storm. That may only impact one
747 cargo plane loaded with Asparagus. Those planes can’t
be diverted to other airports because FDA and USDA inspectors are
at Miami International to inspect incoming fruits and vegetables.
Because of the disruptions, you may have seen some slight price
increases and some spotty outages in some regions of the country.
Importers have doubled up on the 747s coming in, to help re-fill
of supply pipeline. The Valley of Ica grows more Asparagus per acre
than any other region of the world. And this year, because fields
are coming into their prime production years, yields are even higher,
with some growers telling me that production is up over 15%. That
will mean terrific supplies for the holidays.
|Most are still imported,
the Chestnut season is upon us .
|The Chestnut crop was
a valuable crop to those living in the Appalachian region
|Old Chestnut varieties
grew quite tall. Newer root stock varieties are shorter, making
it easier for harvest.
This orchard is in California.
|Chestnut trees and production
ruled from Maine to Louisiana… until a blight destroyed
CHESTNUTS (Thursday, October 14): The chestnut
is said to have originally come from Lydia, an ancient kingdom in
Asia Minor. It has been used for food since those times. The first
recording of the Chestnut was in China, around 900 A.D. Worldwide,
there are about 1.2 billion pounds produced, with China as the leading
producer. China harvests about 40% of the world’s supply,
followed by Italy, Turkey, Japan, Korea around 10% each. The U.S.
accounts for less than 1% of total world production. Today, California
leads the nation in Chestnut production. And there are many growers
in the U.S. where you can buy American-grown Chestnuts, including
California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Missouri, Ohio,
Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Delaware. Even though U.S.
production is among the smallest in the world, each year, production
increases, making it easier to find American-grown Chestnuts in
the supermarket. If you have only been accustomed to imported Chestnuts,
then be sure to ask for American-grown Chestnuts. You’ll be
glad you did. You can find scattered single trees and small groves
planted throughout Northern California mountains by Chinese immigrants
during the Gold Rush. Also, some trees were planted along the north
and central coast by Italian homesteaders. The chestnut tree is
related to the oak and can live for up to 500 years. It is the least
oily of all the nuts, and the easiest of digestion. It contains
more sugar than most nuts as well as a large proportion of starch.
They can be preserved and stored for years. Chestnuts are usually
roasted, boiled, or ground into flour that is used to make bread,
cakes, and cookies. Chestnuts are enclosed in a prickly case, most
of which hold three separate small, smooth nuts. Each chestnut contains
a wrinkled cream-colored kernel that is covered by a thin brown
skin. The nut is protected by a hard, inedible reddish brown membrane,
which some call the “pellicle.” Improved cultivated
varieties of the chestnut tree produce a single large nut, which
is fleshier and more flavorful. The French refer to these larger
chestnuts, which are better for cooking, as marrons and to ordinary
chestnuts as chätaignes. Chestnuts have played an important
role in human and wildlife health for thousands of years. Archeologically
found in Michigan 3000-1000 BC in the eastern part of the state.
The renaissance scientist Thomas Harriot wrote in 1590 that the
native Americans in Virginia made loaves of bread from pounded chestnuts
to eat with a type of bean that they grew. Many early settlers to
the US quickly found out that chestnuts made “commendable
nourishment.” A folk medicine was made from the leaves to
cure whooping cough. In 1880 near Seymour, Indiana a tree was recorded
that had a 22 ft. diameter trunk. Not all chestnuts are the equivalent
of nut sequoias in the forest. Not too long ago, the American chestnut
was one of the most important trees of forests from Maine south
to Florida, from the Piedmont west to the Ohio valley. In the heart
of its range only a few generations ago, a count of trees would
have turned up one chestnut for every four oaks, birches, maples
and other hardwoods. Many of the dry ridge tops of the central Appalachians
were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer,
when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the mountains
appeared snow-capped. It was said that a squirrel could travel from
Maine to Florida just by jumping from one Chestnut tree to the next.
Chestnut was an important cash crop for many Appalachian families.
As year-end holidays approached, nuts by the railroad car-full were
shipped to New York, Philadelphia and other cities where street
vendors sold them fresh roasted. The tree was one of the best for
timber. It grew straight and often branch-free for 50 feet. Loggers
tell of loading entire railroad cars with boards cut from just one
tree. Straight-grained, lighter in weight than oak and more easily
worked, chestnut was as rot resistant as redwood. It was used for
virtually everything - telegraph poles, railroad ties, shingles,
paneling, fine furniture, musical instruments, even pulp and plywood.
But then a chestnut blight struck. In 1904, a most unfortunate "thing"
was imported into the United States. This "thing" was
the Chestnut blight fungus, or Cryphonectria parasitica. The fungus
came into the country on some Japanese and Chinese chestnut trees
that were being imported to the Bronx Zoo in New York City. The
blight then quickly spread to some American chestnut trees in the
park through the air and throughout the entire range of the chestnut
by the 1940's. The American chestnut trees, which evolved without
the presence of the blight, are not resistant to the fungus and
are quickly killed off by it. The blight enters the chestnut tree
through cracks in the bark, which usually appear once a tree is
a few years old. Once under the bark, the fungus then "eats"
away the vascular cambium and phloem of the tree leaving a girdling,
sunken canker. This canker prevents the tree from transporting the
food it makes in its leaves through photosynthesis. Without this
food, the tree then dies within a decade or so. However, the root
systems are not affected by the blight and often sprout to form
new chestnut trees. Once the sprouts are a few years old though,
they once again become infected with the blight and die back again.
By 1950, except for the shrubby root sprouts the species continually
produces (and which also quickly become infected), the keystone
species on some nine million acres of eastern forests had disappeared.
Chestnuts are a quintessential holiday food. They’re delicious
served simply roasted or incorporated into any number of recipes,
from turkey stuffing to candied desserts. Right now they are at
the peak of their season, which runs from about September through
February. The nuts have a high moisture content, which can cause
them to spoil quickly, so if you have a lot of them, you’ll
want to take steps to make the harvest last. Fresh chestnuts, still
in their shells, will keep for about a week in a cool, dry place.
To store them longer, place them in a plastic bag — perforated
to allow for air circulation — and refrigerate them for up
to a month. For longer storage, you can freeze chestnuts: If left
whole, in the shell, they will keep for about four months.
|Roasting Chestnuts along
the streets of New York a century ago.
|Before roasting, cut an
“X” onto the flat side of the Chestnut.
|A heavy skillet with holes
drilled in the bottom is a great way of roasting Chestnuts.
|Roasted Chestnuts are
still very popular in England. This stand is just outside the
Tower of London. Each bag sells for around $1.
CHESTNUTS (Friday, October 15): Chestnuts roasting
on an open fire. Mel Torme and Robert Wells wrote the words and
Nat "King" Cole's voice did the rest. What a combination!
What a song! The classic "Christmas Song" is as much an
American tradition as eggnog and chestnuts. But what is a chestnut?
Chestnut trees once flourished from Maine to Michigan and as far
south as the Appalachians. The snowy white blossomed trees were
prized for their nuts and their strong, sturdy wood which was used
to make everything from sofas to railroad ties. Unfortunately, a
fungal blight at the Bronx Zoo attacked the trees in 1904 and spread
rapidly. By the mid-1920s, the American chestnut tree had all but
disappeared. Today, most chestnuts found in supermarkets are imported
from Italy. They are a different species from the true American
chestnut. Not-to-be confused with horse chestnuts, buckeyes and
water chestnuts - all pretenders. If you are in Europe during the
winter, check out their chestnuts. If you find some in the grocery
store and want to bring the song to reality, here is what you need
to do. Curing does 2 important things. One, it makes the nuts far
easier to peel as it gives the nutmeat the opportunity to shrink
away from the outer shell and the inner shell (pellicle). Two, it
ripens and sweetens the nut improving the flavor tremendously. Your
patience with the curing time will be worth it! When you’re
ready to eat the chestnuts, remember that they have to be cooked
first. Either roasting or boiling will eliminate excess tannic acid
and make the nuts palatable; but you should cook only as many as
you will use at one time — or within three or four days at
the most — because they spoil quickly. To roast chestnuts
in the oven, select nuts that are firm and unblemished. Cut an “X”
on the flat side of each nut to allow steam to escape, then spread
them on a baking sheet and place in a 400-degree oven for about
15 minutes. To eat, grasp the curling skin, and peel away both the
outer shell and thin, papery skin inside. Here are some more detailed
1. Heat oven to 450°. Score chestnuts with an “X”
on the flat sides of their shells, and lay them, “X”
sides up, on a baking sheet. Roast until shells begin to peel back
from nuts, 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Remove chestnuts from oven, and let cool. Peel and discard shells.
3. Coat the bottom of pot with 2 inches of canola oil, and warm
over medium-high heat. Working in batches to prevent crowding, blanch
nuts until their brown skins begin to loosen, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Remove chestnuts from oil with a slotted spoon, and drain on a paper
towel–lined baking sheet. When cool enough to handle, peel