There are lots of things to love about spring but it can be a period of dread in the produce business as we transition from the winter to the summer fruit harvest season. A lot can happen all at once: citrus starts to fade, we start losing variety in hard fruit (apples and pears), and the weather can play havoc on new crop domestic fruit (like berries). The springtime high tension in our trade was exacerbated this year by the massive earthquake in Chile, where much of our winter soft fruit (grapes and blueberries) and summer hard fruit (apples) come from. These challenges for all fruit is doubly so for organically grown. Lower overall acreage and storage volumes can mean a sharp reduction in available organic supply in the spring. The questions every year are these: do we have enough life left in winter to carry us into summer? And what, if anything, can we do about a springtime gap in fruit?
Seedless Muscats hanging on the vine - ChileFears of a long interruption in South American soft fruit supplies proved largely unfounded. Roughly three weeks after the earthquake, grapes were back en route from Chile to points all over the globe. One of the late varieties we look forward to every year is the Seedless Muscat, a pale red variety with a wonderfully unique, complex flavor. The harvest run is very late in the season, and only for a few weeks, but the fruit is well worth the wait.
Ripe mangoes – my officeAnother fruit that emerges to fill the gap between winter and summer harvests is the mango. By volume mangoes are the largest commercial production fruit in the world. In the months of March, April and May, we see an explosion of availability here from the Caribbean as well as from Central and South America. One of the most anticipated varieties is the Francique from Haiti, which is generally available starting in late April. We’ve been in touch with our Haitian growers and they do not expect our mango supply to be affected by their earthquake. This yellow skinned variety is richly flavorful, has a smooth melon-like texture and is widely regarded as the sweetest mango sold in the U.S. Another positive about mangoes in spring is every year there is an increasing supply of organically grown fruit to replace waning domestic supplies of apples and citrus.
Spring Strawberries- Oxnard CaliforniaWeather permitting, strawberries are abundantly available in springtime. Domestic production gets its start in Florida very early in the year, joined by Southern, Central, and eventually Northern California as we progress further into the spring. Organic production is generally a few weeks behind conventional and a few clear, warm days can kick availability into high gear. Unfortunately the opposite is true as well. Spring can be a period of weather extremes and just like us, strawberry plants can handle just about anything in moderation but can suffer mightily when dealt too much rain, heat, wind, cold, or cloud cover.
Blueberry blossoms – South New JerseyPart of me marvels at how much we still have to choose from in what amounts to the leanest season of the year for fruit (particularly organic fruit). Most still available storage apples eat remarkably well and it seems we have more late citrus varieties that get better and better every year. This speaks volumes about the inventiveness and resiliency of a food system that reaches as far and feeds as many as ours. While I mourn the loss of my favorite apple or pear until next season, another part of me is grateful for the leanness of spring and knowing that every gust of wind, rain drop and chilly morning brings us one day closer to the abundance and sunshine of summer.