The winter weather has hit the Bay Area and after the recent cold weather and rain, local crops like strawberries and raspberries are official done for the season. However, with every crop that disappears with the weather, something new like the Olsen Organic Clementines comes along to make our taste buds happy.
As we head deeper into the winter months, citrus is the main fruit crop throughout California; we love to celebrate all of the sensational varieties in our produce department. Varieties like Satsuma and Clementine mandarins usually kick off our local citrus season. Satsumas are the first mandarin variety harvested in Northern California, and have a short season from November to early January. These seedless, easy-peeling pieces of fruit offer the perfect balance between sweet and tart. We just started getting Satsumas from Terra Firma Farm in Winters and will have them through the New Year.
Cara Caras, aka red navels, have become one of the most popular pieces of citrus the past few years. The combination of the sweet, low-acid and firm, juicy texture makes the Cara Cara super enjoyable. Beck Navels have also just started up and they’re so juicy and sweet. Both of these navels will only get more flavorful as we get closer to the end of the month.
The Mandarinquat from Deer Creek Ranch in Porterville is a small tear-drop piece of fruit that’s a little bigger than a kumquat. The tart flesh and sweet, edible skin make for a delightful combination of flavor. They’re the perfect holiday garnish, and throwing them into the freezer makes an awesome ice cube for your cocktails. Deer Creek Ranch also grows beautiful yellow Sweet Limes which are super juicy and have a low acidity compared to regular limes.
Although the first Blood Oranges have been spotted at the SF produce market, most of the organic growers are still waiting for their crops to ripen up. Like most fruit, it’s very important to let the citrus develop their sugars on the tree and not harvest them too early. Unfortunately, due to supply and demand, a lot of the large growers harvest early just to beat the rest of the growers to the marketplace. We always taste the new citrus when it hits the scene to make sure the flavor is there before we bring it on to our shelves. Stay tuned for Bour annual “Citrus Bomb” which will explode with over 20 varieties later this winter!
Apples and pears are at this point coming out of storage as most of the California crops are finished, but we’re very lucky to still have sources of local apples and pears for the holidays. Farmer Al from Frog Hollow has been bringing his Bosc and Warren Pears, which eat great out of hand and bake up nicely. Johan form Hidden Star Orchard just started bringing us his late season Nagafu Fuji, and the Pink Lady Apples have been eating so well. With the end of California apples and pears in sight, we’ll set our sights on amazing fruit from the Northwest like Jazz and Pacific Rose Apples.
With the winter local fruit selection less bountiful, we keep our eyes open for unique fruits. Over the past couple years, more and more growers are harvesting flavorful crops like Passion Fruit and Pineapple Guava aka Feijoas, which add a nice tropical touch to fruit platters and cocktails. A Bi-Rite staff favorite, the Black Sphinx Dates from Arizona just arrived; these rich and creamy dates are such a special treat and will make any cheese platter come alive.
We’ve been working really hard to source specialty varieties of California avocados. This year the Sir Prize avocado, grown by the 5th generation Tenalu Orchard in Porterville, makes its Bi-Rite debut. The Sir Prize is a large avo with a small seed, which means a lot of yummy high-oil, creamy flesh. The skin turns dark black when the fruit is ripe and ready to eat.
Rain earlier this month finally got the wild mushroom season going. We’ve been fortunate to have a steady supply of local Porcini Mushrooms from an old-school forager who knows how to find the nice and firm, bug- free mushrooms. The Matsutake Mushrooms have also been very abundant this year and the price has been very reasonable. A few Matsutake mushrooms thinly sliced can go a long way in a gratin or risotto; they’re extremely aromatic with hints of pepper and nasturtium.
Greens, greens and more greens! This is the time of year for healthy, extra-flavorful greens; they’re one of the only crops that get better with the cold weather. The Lacinato, Green and Red Russian Kale from Tomatero Farm in Watsonville have been beautiful and the nice big bunches go a long way.
Winter at Bi-Rite has become an Escarole party the past few years. It seems to be the best green for salads when local farmers are having a hard time growing baby lettuce in the cold rain. Escarole is a broader leaved, less bitter member of the endive family and makes a great substitute for romaine in a Caesar salad. Escarole is an awesome green to braise and add to soups. We will have escarole from the Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma through January.
Local organic Brussels Sprouts can be hard to come by, but our favorite growers are about to be swimming in brussels. We are currently getting brussel sprouts from Rodoni in Santa Cruz and later this month both Bluehouse Farm in Pescadero and Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport will be harvesting. There is nothing like a fresh picked brussels sprout that is harvested small to medium in size, before they lose their tenderness. When shopping for brussels most people look for sprouts with a solid green color, but the ones that are a lighter shade of green/white have been blanched by the outer leaves of the plant, which usually signals more flavor and tenderness.