My kids think I am so annoying when we go shopping at our local supermarket. But I can’t help myself. If I see a shopper who’s having a difficult time picking a good melon or pineapple, I feel compelled to give them the information that my farmer friends have given me.

So, how do you pick a good watermelon?

First of all, you will always get better-tasting watermelons when they are at the PEAK of the domestic season. And that’s right now and for the rest of the summer!

When choosing a watermelon:

When choosing a cantaloupe:

I do have to confess that the Tuscan-style cantaloupes grown by Dulcinea have the very best, consistent flavor. But, you will have to choose them differently. They WILL have the stem attached and there will be dark green grooves (instead of a golden background), but their flavor almost always seems perfect!
So, enjoy your 4th of July weekend and be sure to serve fresh melon as a healthy snack!

Karen

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Are you happy with what your kids eat for breakfast or lunch? (I’m not). What if you could do something that would positively impact what they ate for lunch, and it didn’t involve you packing their lunch to make it happen?

Well, with that in mind, I want to share with you an interesting, innovative and simple initiative that has been launched within the fresh produce industry. It’s called “A Salad Bar in Every School.”

The general idea is to get companies and individuals to give money to schools to purchase a salad bar unit, which would be used in the school’s cafeteria. Studies have shown that kids will make healthier choices when an attractive display of FRESH produce is available at lunchtime.

Although this is a produce industry initiative, I was thinking… What if parent-teacher associations across the country knew that they could purchase a single salad bar unit for their school cafeteria for only a few thousand dollars? This would send a great message: parent-teacher groups are concerned enough about the health and eating habits of students to put their money where their mouth is.

Give students healthy choices at lunchtime – and see what happens.

I know first-hand that there are real life benefits to offering healthy foods to kids. About eight years ago, I was privileged to represent the produce industry in Washington, D.C., when I testified in front of the Senate Agricultural Committee. I presented a 100-school case study that showed when fresh fruits and veggies were given out as free snacks to kids, their behavior changed (positively):

How’s that for an easy and good-tasting program?

You can see here and here the two salad bar options. And if you are interested in making a difference in YOUR community, I encourage you to contact Andrew Marshall, the policy and grassroots coordinator at the United Fresh Produce Association (email here) and see how easy it is to make this happen in your local school.

As a parent, it’s nice to know that there’s something we can do to help our kids eat healthier — and do our part to fight the obesity epidemic in our country.

Good luck!
Karen

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Frieda's Specialty Produce - Angelcots

A few years ago, one of my co-workers, Dorian, walked in my office with a few pieces of fruit and a bottle of Cholula Hot Sauce. He said, “You have to taste this.”

Now, I really love hot sauce, but I could not imagine why I needed to try it with a piece of fruit.

What he showed me that day has definitely become one of my seasonal favorites: Angelcots®. This white-fleshed apricot variety has such an amazing flavor and juiciness! The regular apricots I’ve had lately just don’t compare. (My apologies to all my apricot-growing friends!)

This photo was taken two weeks ago, when my sister Jackie and I were in Northern California. I was longing to “kick the dirt,” so after a client visit, we drove to Byron, California, and got out the jeans and tennis shoes.

Marty (pictured with us), along with his brother Mark, are third-generation farmers. Like every farmer I’ve ever met, Marty is absolutely passionate about his fruits and vegetables (he also grows cherries and sweet corn). Even though it was a full two weeks before harvest, I picked an Angelcot® off the tree and sampled it. I could already taste the sweet juiciness of this special fruit.

Marty and the fruit breeder, Ross, worked for more than 25 years to develop this particular variety. Sadly, Ross passed away a few years ago, and did not get to experience the fruits of his labor (pun intended).

The only downside of this fabulous apricot is its short season – Angelcots® will only be available for about three to four weeks. Now, fair warning. They cost more than regular apricots. That’s mostly because Marty is a small boutique grower, and he does not grow Angelcots® on a large scale. His costs of producing this fruit are significantly higher than regular apricot farmers. But you tell me – am I right to say that people want to buy fresh produce that tastes great?

So, back to Dorian walking in my office. (My mouth is watering while I am writing this!) He halved the apricot with his hands, put a few drops of Cholula sauce on it, and handed it to me. The taste was incredible! Juicy, sweet (and spicy), and it changed my taste buds.

I hope you can find Angelcots® this season and taste them for yourself. One taste, and you’ll think you went to heaven!

Karen

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For any man reading this post, please be patient with me and read the whole thing. I promise it will make sense by the end.

Back in 1979, my sister Jackie took me to the home of one of her closest friends, Annette. Annette and her family lived in the hills of Saratoga, California, (near San Jose) in a beautiful Spanish home. Annette and most of her family had this gorgeous red hair, and as we sat around chatting, somehow the subject turned to what color clothes look best (or worst) on a red head.

That’s when I got my first lesson in four-season color harmony theory and personal color palettes. Annette and her mother, who were both wearing turquoise, told us about these talented women (Suzanne Caygill and Jennifer Butler ) who work with people to create their personal color palette – shades best suited to their specific hair color and texture, skin color and texture, and eye color. (Having spent many sessions with Jennifer over the last 30 years, I can attest to her amazing talent.)

The photo above is a picture of my portable color palette. My wardrobe is primarily filled with shades of green (my eye color) and khaki, and shades of peach and gray and black and crème. This color-specific style system helps me dress and look my best. I also use it as my secret weapon in business!

What should I wear for a meeting with my employees? Jennifer told me to wear my skin tone – as this would make me seem more open to communication and feedback.

Meeting with an important client? I wear a suit of one of my basic colors (my hair color) and a shirt in my skin tone, to promote communication. (A client once commented to me after our meeting that he felt like it was suddenly very easy to talk with me.)

How to stand out at a cocktail party at an industry convention? I wear my “dramatic color” – which for me is a shade of green.

So, men, how does this relate to you? Ever notice how politicians and successful businessmen always look so “put together”? They know when to wear their red tie and when to wear their yellow, green or blue tie.

These color choices are not selected at random! I can pretty much guarantee that these successful men have worked with a colorist or a personal style consultant for advice on what color and texture to wear to have the most credibility.

So, if you are looking to be more successful in your life, you might want to think about color in a more strategic way! (To learn more about Jennifer Butler’s work, please visit her website: www.jenniferbutlercolor.com.)

Colorfully yours,
Karen

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Have you ever been to a Chinese restaurant and noticed that the dessert section of the menu usually has only one or two items? One of them will most likely be “litchi.” What is that?

Litchi. Lychee. No matter how you spell it, it’s one of my favorite fruits. The season just started, so you might start seeing fresh lychees in your local supermarket. In most Chinese restaurants, lychees will come from a can, packed in a sugary syrup. I’m not particularly fond of the canned lychees, which is why I so look forward to June, when the fresh season starts.

Originating in China, lychees are a tree fruit that grow in beautiful clusters. Today, they are grown commercially in many regions of the world, including Mexico, China and Israel.

For as long as I can remember, June was the month that the fresh lychee season began. Traditionally, the first shipment of the season comes from the heart of Mexico. Our original supplier was a medical doctor, who had a brother who had a lychee orchard. I remember talking to Dr. Gaspar when he arrived at the Los Angeles produce market with his first truck-load of lychees from Michoacan, Mexico. That was more than 20 years ago!

Over the last 20 years, we also began to import fresh lychees from China and Taiwan, and at the end of July, from Israel. As you can see, we are definitely in a global industry!

With the crazy weather we are having this year, the first shipment of fresh lychees from Mexico just arrived on June 14 — a full two weeks after our first shipment came in from China.

Fresh lychees from Mexico have a dark red rind. Inside, the fruit is almost a translucent white, surrounding a big, brown, inedible seed. Once you crack the outside rind gently with your fingers, and peel it off, you can just pop the fruit in your mouth (be sure to spit out the seed). They are SO incredibly sweet and juicy with a slight floral taste. Some say they have the texture of a super-juicy grape.

The lychee variety we import from China (and Taiwan) has a lighter pink shell with a cast of green. They have a similar internal texture and flavor. Personally, I prefer the Mexican lychee – I think they are juicier.

I hope you will give one of the sweetest fruits on earth a try this season! Then you’ll know first-hand why the Chinese serve just a few lychees as the perfect dessert!

Karen

P.S. If you like lychees, check out Rambutan (sometimes known as a “hairy lychee”!).

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I just love when I get comments or suggestions on my blog. Earlier this week, an industry colleague wrote that she wondered if I would be willing to share insights on the family business dynamic, working with my sister Jackie, etc.

Jackie and I look adorable in the picture above, but we weren’t really very close as we grew up. We were three years apart in school, which meant that we were never on the “same playground.”

It wasn’t until Jackie went off to college and I joined my mom in business that we got close. Of course, that was because we didn’t step into each others’ worlds. I was working in the produce business and Jackie was finishing college and starting her adventure of traveling around the world and skiing 100 days in a single season (that took her three years).

Then, in an unexpected turn of events, Jackie decided to join me and mom in the family business. That was 1983. Both mom and I were surprised, as Jackie had vowed NEVER to live in Los Angeles!

To be truthful (and hindsight is always 20/20), I think Jackie really shook my world when she joined Frieda’s. I had enjoyed being an “only child” as the daughter of entrepreneur Frieda Caplan for 6 years. Then, all of a sudden, I had to make room for a new playmate in my sandbox.

It was an adjustment. I clearly remember mom taking us to lunch at Vickman’s Restaurant near the Los Angeles produce market three months after Jackie started. She coached us both on how to treat each other – not as big sister-little sister, but as work colleagues.

In 1990, we were given the opportunity to buy the company from our parents. So, for 20 years now, Jackie and I have worked side by side as partners.

Even in the early years, we worked pretty well together. I was involved in the big picture of running the company and Jackie was involved in sales (and was extremely successful). Her clients LOVED her. But something didn’t quite click.

Finally, about 6 years ago, we were working with Julie Krivanek (a business consultant to the produce industry) and she had “a talk” with us. She sat us down and we both shed a few tears, but her talk worked. It’s as if a giant barrier went down and the doors and windows flew open.

I will say that now, we are truly FULL BUSINESS partners and best friends. We work on company strategy together. We meet weekly to update each other on what’s going on in our respective parts of the business. (Actually, we talk several times a day, informally, but we are now committed to a weekly one-on-one meeting). Jackie and I both belong to our own key executive groups (www.vistage.com) and share the same chair/mentor (Steve Elson rocks!).

Here are some insights on family business:
• Siblings can get along in business, even if they didn’t get along growing up.

• It’s important for siblings to experience the world on their own and work outside the family business before they join the company.

• Evaluate the capabilities of family members as you would any other employee. Don’t be influenced by birth order or gender.

• Don’t be afraid to get outside help when you are dealing with the family business dynamics. There are family business councils associated with many universities, all over the country.

• Keep personal family dynamics separate from business dynamics.

In closing, I want to say that sometimes as sisters in business, our roles change. It’s not unusual in our weekly meeting for Jackie to coach me on how to handle a situation. The first time it happened we chuckled!

I like having her in my sandbox.

Karen

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Sometimes I live in my own little exotic fruit world. I just assumed that when I wrote the word “quince,” everyone would know that I was referring to a fruit. That’s until one of my Spanish-speaking friends said, “fifteen?” (In Spanish, the number fifteen is spelled “quince,” and pronounced “keen-say.”)

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Quince
I am referring to QUINCE (pronounced “kwins”). Let’s start at the very beginning. Quince is a member of the pome family (which is the same as the apple). Interestingly, some believe that the apple which Eve tempted Adam with was actually a quince.

In the United States, we can find quince most times of the year. Right now they are sourced from Chile, where they are harvested in March and April and shipped here by sea container. In the late summer, fruit growers in California’s Central Valley will harvest and ship their quince. The number of commercial growers of quince has probably declined over the years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to make a comeback, as this fruit is enjoying increasing popularity.

Quince are also called membrillos in Mexico, and the fruit pulp made from quince is called dulce de membrillo. You might find cubes of this gelatinous quince served on cheese platters, alongside dried figs.

They are also quite popular in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. One of my first memories of quince was back in the late 1970s. We attended a produce convention on the East Coast and a fellow who sold packaging materials (I only remember that his name was Len), proudly came up to me with a jar of dark pink jelly as a gift.

Turns out his family was Lebanese and ever since they moved to the U.S., they longed for the lovely, fragrant quince they knew so well back home. When he found Frieda’s quince in his local produce market, he bought up everything, and took them home so he and his wife could make quince jelly. One of the unique qualities of quince is that it must be eaten cooked, as it is too tart and hard to eat raw. When you cook it with sugar, it turns from a pale whitish-yellow to a bright pink.

One more quince story… In the 1980s, one of our kiwifruit growers from Paradise, California, sent us dozens of cases of a new variety called “perfume quince.” They were long and oblong in shape, unlike the traditional round shape, and were incredibly aromatic. It was quite a challenge to sell this new variety, because they were very hard and virtually impossible to peel or cut. But I would tell my clients that they were a perfect item to put in their sock drawers to make them smell good.

You can imagine that we didn’t sell the “perfume quince” variety for too long! Can’t win ’em all. (Today, we distribute the popular “pineapple quince” variety.)

If you want to try your hand at making quince jelly, click here for a recipe. (And here’s a recipe for quince chutney and quince brown betty.) Meanwhile, they are quite aromatic, so don’t be afraid to try one at your local market.

Karen

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I always wonder what the average shopper thinks of those small, annoying labels on most of the fresh fruit in the produce department. You know the ones I mean. If you’re lucky, they can easily be removed from your Fuji apples (I use a serrated knife to lift one edge). But, it’s nearly impossible to get them off a nectarine, pluot or eggplant without ripping the skin.

Well, here is a bit of history. Back in the 1960s, there were only about 65 different items sold in the produce department. In the 1970s, that number grew to almost 200. By the 1980s, it was over 300. And today, the average produce department will probably handle more than 600 different items at any one time.

Many years ago, the people who ran supermarket produce departments figured out it was getting harder and harder to educate their staff and cashiers on what every item was. They had to come up with an easy, universal and effective way to identify products so they would be rung up at the correct price. And, they were also sensitive to how valuable the shopper’s time is, so they wanted it to be quick to use.

Enter PLU numbers. PLU stands for Price Look Up. This unique computerized numbering system – applied to everything from apples to zucchini – allows the cashier to enter the 4-digit number and the cash register will automatically display what the product is and its price (either by the pound or by the each).

You may notice that sometimes that 4-digit number is prefaced by a “9” – that means the product has been grown organically.

Because the PLU system helps ensure that produce prices are charged correctly, it actually encourages your supermarket to offer a wider variety of products in their produce department. Retailers can rest assured that they won’t lose money because product is not rung up correctly.

Supermarkets are always looking for ways to be more efficient in managing their costs, so this was a great invention, and frankly, it encouraged innovation and new product introductions.

Many of us now have access to self-checkout lanes in our supermarkets. I enjoy scanning my own items occasionally, and have seen first-hand how important those PLU numbers are.

So, maybe next time you pick up a fruit or veggie adorned with that little sticker, you won’t find it quite so annoying!

Karen

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Every morning I make breakfast before I leave for work. After sipping on my cup of freshly brewed Peet’s French Roast coffee, I make egg whites topped with Parmesan shavings and half an avocado. Mmm… Avocado. It’s the absolute favorite food in our house.

I was at a produce meeting a few weeks ago (the Fresh Produce & Floral Council based in Southern California). David from the California Avocado Commission was a guest speaker and he announced to us that this particular day was special. It was the official beginning of the California avocado season.

I had never really thought much about avocado seasons. I do know that at various times of the year, they come from California, Mexico, Chile and sometimes the Dominican Republic and New Zealand. Avocados are an alternate bearing crop, so one year the crop will be large, the next year it will be smaller. And in the last few years the avocado industry has been stricken with fires, high winds, freezes – you name it.

After David’s talk, I paid closer attention to the avocados I was eating. I go to my local market to buy produce two or three times a week, and I like to buy the 4-pack mesh bags of avocados. I buy them still hard and green and leave them on my counter surrounded by ripe yellow bananas – so they can ripen faster. (Bananas and apples give off a natural ethylene gas that helps avocados ripen.) Since I am now getting the Hass variety avocados, the outside skin turns black as they ripen. Once they are soft (like a peach), I keep them in the refrigerator until I use them.

I was amazed to notice that the new-crop California avocados really ARE different than those from Mexico and Chile that I was eating previously. The avocados from California seem to have a more consistent, creamy texture and light green color. For my palette, the flavor is smoother.

I think back to the 1980s when the folks at the California Avocado Commission, headed by the late Ralph Pinkerton, Jr., enlisted a very attractive spokesperson, TV star Angie Dickinson, to promote avocados. Check out this YouTube video that is over 20 years old!

Back then, there was only one kind of fat. Bad fat. Now, thanks to research, we know that avocados are an excellent source of so many nutrients and that the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat content can actually help you absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as beta-carotene and lutein.

I love my avocados (as does every member of my family), whether they are on top of an omelet at breakfast, in guacamole for snacks, or as a dessert in avocado bread! Yum!

Now that you know how to ripen them, I encourage you to use avocados more often. They are good for you!

Karen

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