Week 52: All Together Now, “Everything’s a Couple Weeks Early”

Volume 7, Week 52, August 17–23, 2014

Middle of August and already the raisin grape harvest has started and that heavy, sweet, candy smell of grapes drying in the sun is everywhere. Normally that’s a late August early September thing but—let’s all say it together—everything’s a couple weeks early this year.

I used to think that the longer a grape hung on the vine, the sweeter it got and thus the meatier the raisins would be; but the truth is there’s a sugar acid ratio (called titration) like a tipping point that, when met, is the signal the vine’s done all it’s gonna do sugar-wise.

You can buy fancy equipment to tell you these things—and if you don’t know what you’re doing it might be educational but the best equipment’s your own mouth. When you bite into a grape, ignore flavor and think about sugar and acid or sweet and sour. When there’s no more sour, it’s time to turn inventory into accounts receivable; or in this case, grapes on the vine into raisins delivered to Sun Maid.

The ground between vine rows is smoothed and slanted south towards the sun, the grapes are traditionally picked by hand and then laid on 2 by 3 foot pieces of kraft paper for two to three weeks until they’re dry.

Now Uncle Vern, I plow a cube farm in Glendale; why do you tell us all this technical farmer stuff every week anyhow? I used to ask the same questions like: “Why do I need to know how to churn butter, pluck chickens, pull a calf…We grow peaches!” Because you never know when you’ll need to know how to do these things, and it’s amazing how interrelated everything is.

A cube and peach farmer share way more than either would like to admit and the more knowledge we have of each other’s interdependent worlds, the better off we’ll all be.

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Well, last spring, I told you about some incredible stone fruit varieties from France we had acquired the U.S. organic development rights to. It’s been quite an exciting summer of tasting and planning for our merry little band of organic farmers here. We’ve learned a couple things. First off, their peaches can’t take our heat; they all “cork” or develop dry, cork-like spots under the skin making them unmarketable. That’s why we watch them in the nursery at least 3 years under our conditions.

But, the nectarines are beyond amazing. The worst are better than the best of what I’m growing now, not only in sugar, but also in complex flavor. I now know how the pearl merchant felt.

We were able to get one variety planted last spring—which you could taste in 2016—and 5 more varieties budded in the nursery for next spring. Then the 2016 plantings will extend our harvest into August; this is truly and practically an organic 2020 vision and the next 5 years will fly by before you know it.

So Carol and I are off to France to check ’em out and plan and meet their farmers. Amy Beth will have this page for the next few weeks and that’s always refreshing to get the not raised on the farm perspective of what goes on around here. Somehow, the world keeps turning even when I’m not pushing. See you in September.

Author AHO Kitchen Team

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