Grapes were first cultivated in the Near East 6,000 to 8,000 years ago. There are over 60 varieties of grapes that are cultivated for wine making and over 50 varieties are in current production as table grapes. Over 200 years ago, Franciscan monks brought grapes to California for the purpose of making sacramental wine.
Grapes enjoy temperate weather and grow particularly well in regions where the climate is similar to the Mediterranean. California produces 97 percent of all the European varieties grown commercially in the United States. California is third in the world in table grape production, behind Italy and Chile. The two types of grape species grown in the United States are the Native American, and the European. There are an estimated ten thousand varieties of the European species, but only a dozen or so are imported as table grapes. Native American grapes are sometimes referred to as "slip skin grapes" because their skins easily separate from the flesh. Another common characteristic of this group is that their seeds remain tightly imbedded in the flesh. Concord grapes are the most familiar Native American variety.
Grapes are typically harvested when fully ripe, so they should be ready to eat when you buy them. Use color as a guide to the sweetness of the fruit. Green grapes should have a slight yellow cast with a touch of amber when fully ripe, not an opaque grassy green color. Red grapes should be a deep crimson, not a milky or pale red. Blue or black grapes should be darkly hued, almost black, not pale or tinged with green. Grapes showing signs of decay, shriveling, stickiness, brown spots or dry brittle stems should be avoided. Grapes should be plump, so avoid any that have lots of under-developed, very green fruit. You can always judge the freshness of grapes by the stem. The greener the stem, the fresher the grapes. Grapes should always be firmly attached to their stems.
Tomatoes are certainly one of the most popular year-round produce items on the market . One of the keys to success with tomatoes is to understand the best methods for handling, storing, and displaying this popular food. Here are a few tips and suggestions for taking the best care with this very delicate fruit.
Storage: By far the most important aspect in storage is temperature. Never store your tomatoes below 55° Fahrenheit. Storing tomatoes at anything below 55° will typically result in disaster. A tomato produces a flavor enzyme as it ripens; as soon as the body temperature goes below 55° the enzyme stops producing any more flavor permanently. Even worse, the longer you keep your tomato in the cold, the flavor that has already developed will degrade until it is brought up to a reasonable temperature. Additionally, when you store a tomato at a cold temperature, you run the risk of having the water inside the tomato expand, a situation that causes individual cells within the tomato to burst. This leaves you with a tomato that may look fine to the naked eye, but will taste mealy when you bite into it.
Apple season has officially arrived and, over the next several weeks, we will see more and more varieties become available. To help celebrate the season, here is an assembly of apple facts:
Avocados are one of the few produce items that only ripen after they have been picked. To speed up the ripening process you can place the avocado in a paper bag with a banana or apple which provides ethylene gas (a ripening agent). They can be placed in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days but only after they have reach desired ripeness or they can end up with black spots in the fruit.