Cotton Candy Grapes with Bag

As you are pushing your cart through the grocery store, looking for your next purchase, you come across a piece of fruit that catches your eye. You look it over, check for any blemishes or bad spots, and if it meets your personal specifications, you place it into your cart and keep going about your business. The act of picking up and selecting a piece of fruit is not a complex one. For most people it doesn’t even last more than a minute. Have you ever thought about more about how that piece of fruit got to the store? Your selection of the fruit is the end of a long process of planting, pruning, tasting, harvesting, planting more, pruning more, tasting more, harvesting more, and so on for what could have been years. To show you what goes into bringing a piece of fruit to the consumer I am going to share with you the super-popular Cotton Candy grape’s journey from the vine to your store.

Cotton Candy Grapes on Vine

Photo courtesy of Grapery’s facebook page

A Decade Long Journey

This week I had the privilege of speaking with Jim Beagle, the CEO of Grapery out of Bakersfield, California. They are the growers of Cotton Candy grapes. They have been working with Horticulturalist David Cain and International Fruit Genetics to create new grape varieties through classic hybridization. This is done through crossing different species of grapes. Once that is done and you have a plant, it has to be grown. Now you have to wait until it fruits and taste the fruit to see if it’s any good. It takes 2 to 3 years to produce fruit. If it passes that test you need to determine whether or not this grape is commercially viable – tack on another 8 to 10 years. You have to be able to produce enough to supply stores and it has to grow well enough to produce enough fruit. Even if you grow a grape that tastes great, if you can’t meet the challenges of growing it, then it will still never see the light of day in the supermarket. It is a long process of trial and error. The success rate is very low. So when something as good as a Cotton Candy grape comes along it truly is an extraordinary find. A find that took ten years to get to your table.

Cotton Candy Grapes Up Close

Toffee Caramel Grapes?

One of the most interested things I learned while talking with Jim Beagle was that the original name for Cotton Candy grape was Toffee Caramel. When he was out in the field tasting the grapes that’s the flavor profile that came to mind. Later, when others tried it, they felt it tasted just like Cotton Candy. The difference is all in the temperature. When Jim was tasting the grapes in the field they were warm out in the 90 degree weather. It wasn’t until they were chilled in cold storage that the flavor of Cotton Candy was really pronounced. If you try the grapes at room temperature they just aren’t as good, they are better cold.

My daughters doing their own taste test!

My daughters doing their own taste test!

Taste Tests

Once you have a great tasting product that seems to be commercially viable you need to get people interested in the grape. One way Grapery did this was to reach out to Henry’s Farmers Market stores (now merged with Sprouts). They did a taste test of grapes including Cotton Candy, Witch Fingers (at the time called Chile Pepper grapes), and a Muscat type. The Grapery wants to grow grapes that people are going to want to buy. People were blown away by the Cotton Candy grapes and not as much by the Muscat type that Jim personally loves. This began a relationship between Grapery and Sprouts. Grapery is able to deal directly with them. They have also reached out to other stores, sending them samples of their grapes. In 2014, they launched their Flavor Pop grapes, featuring 8 very limited varieties. These grapes are so limited that very few stores will get them and if they do they may only receive a single case. In the end this is putting the grapes in the hands of produce workers, buyers, and some customers to try and give feedback.

Cotton Candy Grapes Gelsons

Gelson’s Markets store managers getting a tour of the vineyard (courtesy Grapery’s facebook page)

A Small Business – Specialty Focus

Grapery’s desire is to reach out to the small businesses. They are able to supply grapes locally to Sweet Surrender Bakery, Sequoia Sandwich Shop, and Sully’s Chevron gas station – all located in Bakersfield. They also work with distributors and wholesalers to get their grapes in the hands of small companies they can’t work directly with. They are very passionate about working with these places where their grapes will be appreciate and people will flock to these locations, bringing more business to the small businesses.

Cotton Candy Grapes Gelsons 2

Gelson’s Markets store managers getting a tour of the vineyard (courtesy Grapery’s facebook page)

Roadblocks

The amazing flavor of Cotton Candy grapes is not enough to get them into stores and then into customer’s hands. There have been roadblocks. Here are 5 issues that have come up along the way.

1. Consistent flavor in the field
Consistency is extremely important when launching a new variety. People want to be able to have that same great experience each time out. When it comes to most table grapes, people don’t even recognize the grower or pay attention to the packaging. Stores go through many different growers of red, black, and green grapes. You might go to the same store twice in one week and get a different quality grape each time. If you have a bad experience it probably won’t stop you from buying a bag of red grapes again. With Cotton Candy grapes – the brand is recognizable. People aren’t going to forgive and forget so easily. Quality needs to be maintained.

2. The capital to start a variety
It takes money to make money as the saying goes. Who is going to give you money for grapes that have never been grown? The capital is needed to start the variety, and it takes years before any return can be seen. You have to wait for the grapes to mature and have a supply to make it to the point where you can actually make some money.

3. The labor to pick only the ripe grapes
You might think, “well anybody can pick grapes, so why would labor be a problem?” You need to have the right labor. They need to train people to pick only the ripe grapes that are at the quality and flavor desired in their fruit. It takes skill to be able to make those judgments, more than just snipping some grapes off the vine.

4. Getting produce buyers to buy into a more expensive product
Cotton Candy grapes are not cheap. Don’t expect to see them on sale for 99 cents a pound at your store anytime soon. They are more expensive to grow – you need more skilled labor, they don’t pick them all at once, their growing process is more costly. Jim Beagle says its like asking a produce buyer to put his job on the line every time they make an order. If they spend more money to buy the grapes and they don’t make money off the consumer, then why would they continue to buy? Grapery has to convince buyers that they are making a good investment – the flavor has to match up with the higher price, every time out.

5. What is best for customers
The most important thing is the customer. They have to like the product, enough to want to buy it again. This is why they do taste tests. Personal preferences work fine when you are growing grapes just for yourself, but when you are growing them for a nation with widely different tastes you need to appeal to enough of the people in order to sell your grapes.

Thank-You to Grapery

I wanted to end this with a thank-you to the Grapery. I appreciate all the hard work you have put in, to bring new exciting flavors to a world full of bland table grapes. I have never been more excited about a particular fruit grower. I am excited to see and taste what the future holds. And a special thank you to Grapery CEO, Jim Beagle for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me.

What is the Difference Between Hatch Chiles and Anaheim Peppers?

in Fruit & Vegetables

Hatch Chiles

It’s Hatch Chile Time! Do you have Hatch Fever like Frieda’s Specialty Produce. Have you seen huge displays of these at Kroger stores or have you attented a hatch roasting event? If you are a fan of peppers one look at the Hatch Chile and you may be thinking that “hey that pepper looks just like an Anaheim pepper”. If a New Mexico resident is within ear shot they may soundly object to you saying such a blasphemous thing. I am here today to clear up the differences between a Hatch Chile and an Anaheim pepper. For simplicity sake we are going to keep the chile versus pepper argument for another time and just called the Anaheim a pepper and the Hatch a chile.

What is the Difference Between Hatch Chiles and Anaheim Peppers?
So what is the difference. It all comes down to location, location, location. Let’s face the facts, a Hatch chile is a variety of Anaheim pepper. Yes they are basically one in the same. But while wine lovers celebrate wines from different regions, people debate whether Vermont or Wisconsin cheddar is better, and those that will only eat Vidaliia onions, what makes the Anaheim peppers named Hatch chiles special is where they are grown. Mesilla Valley of New Mexico, where the town of Hatch is located, experiences abudant sunshine, hot daytime temperatures with cool nights. This is due to the approximate 4000 foot elevation in the area, which allows for cooler temperatures at night during the growing season. For whatever reason this hot and cool trade off does wonder for the flavor of the chiles. The soil makeup is also different there from California and Mexico in which most the grocery store Anaheim peppers come from.

Can I Use an Anaheim Pepper In Place of a Hatch Chile?
Absolutely! The flavor may be different but the pepper will work just the same. Just like the ones from Hatch, Anaheims would benefit in flavor from roasting.

Hatch Chile Creamed Corn

My Favorite Use for Hatch Chiles
No doubt about it – Creamed Corn. The heat of the pepper is so perfect along with the creaminess you get when kernel meets dairy. Take a moment and check out the recipe.

Where to Buy Calypso Limeades

in Beverages

Calypso Pineapple Peach Limeade

The lemon and the lime. A popular flavor combination in the soda world. But I am a firm believer that these two flavors are best when they are not together. Every lime flavored soda pop I have had has tasted better than any lemon-lime combo. This doesn’t mean I don’t like to mix up my lemon and lime flavors with other flavors, just not each other. I am a big fan of flavored lemonades. I am also a big fan of flavored limeads, which I believe are often overlooked. Those days of being overlooked may be over with Calypso Limeades available on the market from the same people who brough us Triple Melon and Ocean Blue Lemonade.

Calypso has 6 flavors of limeade – Natural Limeade, Sweet Cherry, Tangerine, Pink Guava, Pineapple Peach, and Coconut Coloda. The only two that I have had myself were the Pineapple Peach and Sweet Cherry – both of which I liked. The Sweet Cherry Limeade is a classic combination that Calypso does justice to. The pineapple peach is a more unique concept which I found to work, with all three flavors – peach, pineapple, and lime shinning through.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I look finding things for people. So of the best and most popular posts on this blog have been “my where to buy posts.” I want to help you locate these limeades. You can check out my Calypso Lemonade post to see where that is available as you might be able to find the limeades at the same location. If you found them, let me know where and what you thought.

Where to Buy
Busch’s (Ann Arbor, MI)
Holiday Market (Canton, MI)

These first 2 locations is where I have found them myself.

Zanotto’s Family Market (San Jose)
Foodtown (New Jersey)
Smith’s
Menard’s

Distributors
Here is a list of distributors that I found carry the limeads. You can check to them to see what retailers might have them -

Rhode Island Distributing
Cherokee Distributing

When Are Red Haven Peaches Ready 2014

in Fruit & Vegetables

Red Haven Peaches

The Red Haven – the peach that every other peach is judged against. By far the most well known variety of peach in my neck of the woods. People eagerly anticipate this peach every year – they go wild over it. The season is a short one, so when they are available you need to grab them fast.

The 2014 Red Haven Peach Season
The weather plays a big factor into when Red Havens will be ready each year. Or if they will be ready at all. We had a record cold weather this past year with temperature going below -10 degrees multiple times. This end up killing some of the buds of the peaches before they could even reach the spring. The buds for a peach form before the winter not during the spring. Peach tree need to go dormant and require a certain number of chill hours (temperatures below 45 degrees). But if temperature gets too cold, too often it can kill the buds like what happened this year. Many orchards in southeastern Michigan have no peaches at all this season. The western part of Michigan did a little bit with the more hilly terrain and Lake Michigan to nearby to keep the temperatures slightly higher. Other states suffered as well (read about the problems in Indiana)

Red Haven Peaches

Another thing to factor in is the very mild summer we have had here in the Midwest. I have yet to see a 90 degree day this summer at my house, which is very uncommon. The ripening process of the peaches has been delayed. So not only is the crop not abundant this year it is also later. I managed to pick up some Red Havens from Virginia at a store while I was in Shipshewana, Indiana.

What is Difference Between Red Haven Peaches and Early Red Havens?
You may have heard people saying they have early Red Haven peaches. What is the difference? It is either a strain that ripens two weeks early that is clingstone or another variety in the Haven series that is using the Red Haven name to generate sales. August is the month to find true, freestones (most years) Red Haven peaches.

Farm and Farmer’s Market Reports
Here are some things I have heard about Red Havens from various farms and markets.

Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market
None of the vendors at this market are selling any peaches this year.

Port Huron Farmer’s Market
My mom was at the farmer’s market in Port Huron on Tuesday, August 12th. A vendor told her that she would have Red Haven the following week.

Fruit Acres Farm in Coloma, MI
They began offering u-pick on Red Havens on August 9th and ran out of u-pick on August 16th. They still have already picked Red Haven available in this market as of this writing.

Big Dan’s U-Pick in Hartford, MI
Also had Red Havens available for picking starting the 9th.

Norton’s Produce in St. Charles, IL
They have Red Havens peaches in stock as of this writing.

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