One of the most fun things in Produce is the changing of the seasons. As the seasons change, so do our offerings. We constantly rearrange our displays to accommodate for products going in and out of season. We’re artists who use fruits and vegetables as paints, and display fixtures as a canvas. In the fall, we work with apples, pumpkins, and tomatoes. As we head into winter, winter squash, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, and citrus become the medium. Spring brings the first cool-weather local veggies: asparagus, spinach, rhubarb, salad greens, ramps, and the elusive morel. By mid-February, we’re all looking forward to spring and fresh eats. We’re looking for inspiration.
And then, justas we’re getting settled into our spring displays, it’s over and we’re getting ready for the summer masterpiece. In the vegetable section, we might change display sizes to highlight seasonal local items, but in general, the fare is consistent. Fruit, on the other hand, is deliciously chaotic.
Apples, pears and citrus are the primary winter fruits. Typically, they’re harvested when they’re ready, graded and packed, stored in refrigerated warehouses, and shipped out on an as-needed basis. In a good year, supplies and quality are steady, and prices are stable, which makes for a relatively simple process on our end. We can set our displays and just keep filling them for the next few months. There really aren’t a whole lot of surprises.
Summer fruits, on the other hand, tend to be much more involved. Volume tends to start slow and can be sporadic. Quality is less predictable, and prices can fluctuate from week to week. Buyers, receivers, and stockers are constantly sampling product to assess quality. Buyers source for quality and coordinate with stockers to determine placement and display size. And on top of all of that, we manage highly perishable product.
Unlike winter citrus and apples being pulled out of storage, summer fruits tend to ship fresh. Think grapes, peaches, cherries, and berries—how long can you store them in your refrigerator? A week? Maybe two? Certainly not as long as that Rio Star grapefruit with the quarter-inch thick skin. The nature of summer fruit ensures that you are eating the freshest fruits. Most summer fruits continue to ripen once they’ve been harvested. The act of harvesting actually triggers the ripening process. And, once the process has begun, it’s feast or famine. Ripening can be slowed down in a “controlled atmosphere” (your refrigerator), but it doesn’t stop. You either eat it, or it rots.
As a consumer, it pays to be aware of seasonality. These days, you can purchase just about any fresh fruit or vegetable year round; however, you’re going to pay more for out-of-season produce, and it’s not going to be as good as domestically grown fruit. It’s picked greener to stand up to shipping and extended storage. Nutritionally, it’s inferior. Chlorophyll levels remain higher even when ripe. Instead of a pear or nectarine with a nice blush, it has a greenish tinge to it. The pigment that gives ripe fruit its ‘nice blush’ contains the phytonutrient anthocyanin, known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. You’re paying more and getting less. The general rule of thumb for peak season items is: quality up, price down. A good indicator for peak summer fruits in the Co-op is the Bi-Weekly Special. Typically, peak season means the market is flooded with perishable product. Growers deal with brokers and distributors to lower prices to promote sales, and we pass those savings on to you.
Summer fruit is lightly sweet and refreshing. They’re snacks, desserts, salads, and preserves. On their own, they’re simple and convenient, making it almost effortless and enjoyable to get in your Five-A-Day! Here’s what’s in store for the coming months.
Peaches start coming out of Mexico in late April, and move their way up the west cost through the summer months. We tend to think of peaches having four seasons: Mexico, California, Washington, and Colorado. Most of the peaches coming out of Mexico and California are the cling variety where the fruit is difficult to remove from the stone. As the season progress north, free-stone varieties dominate the market. These are our favorites, and tend to be available around mid-July into August. We find these ripen more consistently than earlier varieties. Last year, our favorite peaches were the Burkhart label from Northern California, with the Kokopelli label out of Colorado coming in a close second.
Nectarines follow the same patterns as peaches, however, they are typically a couple of weeks behind. Again, staff and I favor the later season, free-stone product from Northern California and Washington, and again, the Burkhart label was our favorite. Initially, sizes tend to be smaller, and as the season progresses, we’ll start seeing larger-sized, free-stone product.
Plums should have arrived in late May. Early season plum varieties include Red Beauty and Black Beauty, both of which have a slightly tart flavor. As we move into July, we’ll see the sweeter Black Amber and LaRoda varieties become available, and pricing to come down.
Apricots should be available through July. They have a relatively short season, and quality has been hit or miss over the last couple of years. Your best bet is to ask a Produce staffer how they are, and if we say they’re good, it’s time to buy.
Pluots and Apriums? Both are a cross between a plum and an apricot. Pluots exhibit more plum than apricot characteristics, while the Aprium is vice versa. Look for good supplies on Pluots through August, and ask if it’s the Dapple Dandy label on the shelf. This is a later season variety, and has consistently been a staff favorite.
Cherries should be available out of California in early June. Organic production is relatively small, and the season is maybe six weeks if we’re lucky. As California winds down, the Northwest season picks up, and we’ll start seeing product from Washington. Prices initially start strong, and come down as volume increases from Washington. Because the season is so short, it’s difficult to promote cherries on our specials programs, but this doesn’t mean you’re not going to find a deal. We watch the market, and when prices drop, we pass those savings and then some on to you. Look for both the dark, sweet varieties, and the super sweet Rainier.
Both red and green grapes should be available through the summer and into fall. Last year, they went into November! Like most summer
crops that start in Mexico and move north as the season progresses, look for firm pricing to start coming down into the summer. Grapes are grown
in several regions, so they tend to have several peak seasons. Look for Bi-Weekly specials with great pricing in July and August.
Berries! Shortcake anyone? Strawberry supplies out of California should be peaking in June. Look for Bi-Weekly or Rewards on quarts. Locally, we hope to see some product at the end of the month, into early July.
Raspberries and blueberries should be strong out of California through June. Locally, look for product in August.
Melon supplies out of California and Mexico should be available right up to when the local season starts. Once again, Tipi Produce will be supplying us with muskmelons, and a variety of watermelons including Yellow Doll and Orchid. Local season generally starts the first week of August and runs through September.
If you’re wondering what’s good, just ask the person stocking fruit. At any given time, they should know what’s hot! And, we’re happy to offer samples. Eating fresh fruit is perhaps the easiest way to contribute to your health, and it’s tasty. Choose a variety of colors to ensure you’re getting a variety of nutrients. Stay cool, eat fruit!
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