As you read this post, I will have just arrived on a red eye from Long Beach, California, to Dulles Airport in Virginia. My recently graduated eldest daughter Alex will be picking me up at the airport at 5 a.m., and we will be starting our eight-day drive across the country, returning to Seal Beach, California.

Being a big “family and friends” person, I have chosen cities to stop in where we have either family or friends. Alex and I both chose a landmark that we wanted to visit, too.

For me, it was Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. For Alex, it’s Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

I will be sharing some of our most notable experiences during this trip in upcoming posts. Of course we will stop and visit supermarkets. Do produce departments look different in Omaha and South Dakota from what I see in Southern California? (My friend John, who is originally from Omaha, told me to stop by the wholesale produce market in downtown Omaha. Who knew there was such a place?) I hope we dine in interesting places and taste the local cuisine of Americana.

As you may know from reading this blog my personal passion is produce. I grew up in the produce business and I love it! So much so, that our company mission is to Change the way America eats fruits and vegetables. And my goal during this cross-country journey is to share stories and experiences that relate to food, produce, being healthy and enjoying life!

So, Bon Voyage! And if you have any suggestions for some awesome food places on our route, please email me!

Karen

I go grocery shopping two or three times a week. Since I was traveling for five days last week, my refrigerator was completely empty Sunday night when I returned, so I went to my local store on Monday evening to stock up.

WOW – the produce department looked completely different this week! Summer is definitely on its way. The big displays of apples were moved to the back to make room for first of the season nectarines, peaches, plums/pluots and apricots.

The apricots really caught my eye because they looked so fresh and the color was so pretty — a pale orangey-gold, almost a pale salmon. Earlier that day, at the office, our Forager, Mary, had returned from a farmers market and brought us samples of the Poppy Cot variety of apricot.

One of our buyers got out his produce knife* and cut one in half. He offered me a taste. (*Produce buyers frequently carry “produce knives” in their pockets as they often will need to cut open a fruit or vegetable to check the quality or taste on a moment’s notice.)

I was a little hesitant, because my favorite apricots — a white-fleshed variety called Angelcots® — are not available for another month, and really nothing tastes as good to me as Angelcots®. (I will let you all know when they come back in season, around June 25). But, here I was being offered a taste, so like a good produce person, I took it.

They actually tasted good! They were juicy, but firm. They had a fresh, earthy true apricot flavor. And because they are small they will be perfect to include in my daughter’s lunch.

When was the last time you tasted a fresh, first of the season apricot? I’m sure it’s been a year, because I do believe that apricots taste best at the beginning of their season.

You should know that many different varieties of Apricots are harvested during the summer season. You can usually tell if an apricot will be good if it looks fresh and is not wrinkled. Find out when your produce manager gets his delivery and try to pick apricots, or any tree fruit, as soon as they arrive at the store.

Apricots usually taste best if you keep them out on the counter. They will soften a bit, but not as much as a peach. Then you should eat them within a day or two. I do not recommend putting apricots in the refrigerator, because the alternating temperatures (warm at the store, cold in your fridge) can make them turn mushy.

And if you’ve never had a fresh apricot – try one! You may be familiar with dried apricots. To prevent discoloration when they are dried, apricots are treated with sulfites. They taste nothing like FRESH apricots!

Enjoy, and get ready for a summer filled with all kinds of delicious fruits!

Karen

My husband Garry and I do not often get a few days alone. So last week, on our way to my daughter Alex’s college graduation in Virginia, we stopped in New York City for three days.

I decided to try a different strategy on this vacation – I let him plan everything. We went to the restaurants he wanted, the landmarks he wanted to see and I did not drag him into any grocery stores. (OK, we did go inside a small grocery called William Morris, but only because they had air conditioning and it was VERY warm.)

So, here are Garry’s picks for your next vacation in New York City:

Peter Luger’s Steakhouse

When you cross the Brooklyn Bridge, make a sharp right and you will end up at the top-rated steakhouse in New York for the last 28 years. Since Garry is from Texas, you know that red meat, aka steak, is considered its own food group. And yes, our dinner was a small green salad and a huge steak and French fries. (Did you know that French fries are technically a vegetable?)

Even though I’m not a big red meat eater, the steak was fantastic. (Note: they only take cash — no credit cards.) Thank goodness Garry made reservations three months in advance, because it was jammed.

Ferrara Bakery

How do you follow a steak dinner of that magnitude? Well, of course, you go back into NYC to Little Italy for the best place for dessert. Because it was raining, thankfully, there was not a line out the door. But the 30-foot long glass display case of desserts was sumptuous. Every kind of dessert known to mankind was on display. Garry had some very tasty pistachio ice cream. I was stuffed from dinner, so I had coffee and biscotti. You can actually order their famous cheesecake, and many more of their desserts online at www.ferraracafe.com

Carnegie Deli

Sandy Levine, owner of Carnegie Deli (left) with my husband Garry (right).

The next morning we walked about four blocks to Carnegie Deli for breakfast. This place has a reputation for the best pastrami in New York City, and possibly the country. The walls at Carnegie are covered with autographed photos of many politicians and movie stars and the servers have been there for decades. As we sipped our coffee and enjoyed our breakfast, I watched this guy walk around and greet some of the guests by name. I figured he must be the owner – so I jumped up and introduced myself. Yes, it was Sandy Levine. His title is “MBD.” When I asked him what that stood for, he was shocked I didn’t know. He finally told me: “Married the Bosses Daughter.” We both had a nice laugh. We told Sandy that we had breakfast at his deli in Las Vegas (at the Mirage Hotel). He said that it is so wildly successful that it forced the closure of the hotel’s coffee shop and another deli in town!

Oh, and here is a photo of the pastrami sandwich the couple sitting next to us ordered. It is at least 6 inches tall.

Ground Zero

I think no visit to New York City is complete without paying your respects at Ground Zero. Garry and I took a taxi there and walked around. The area is amazingly clean and you can see the construction of the new building. I visited New York City in December 2001, so the change is remarkable.

Century 21

Adjacent to the site of the former World Trade Center is a discount store that is world renowned. We didn’t buy anything, but Garry and I had fun looking at the busloads of tourists who arrive there almost hourly, looking for a bargain. Clothes, housewares, everything. Yes, my husband likes to shop — it was his idea to go there!

Eataly

When I was in New York City last November, Garry heard me rave about Mario Batali’s newest food venture. So, he wanted to see Eataly New York for himself. We walked around the venue for about an hour as we waited for a table at the pizza and pasta area. After we stuffed ourselves with Agnolotti pasta and a Fru Fru pizza, we went to get an espresso. While sitting at the espresso bar, we struck up a conversation with the lady sitting across the table. Turns out she was a journalist working for the New York Daily News — and used to live in Seal Beach, California (where we live)! New York is a small world!

Junior’s

After we saw Jersey Boys on Thursday evening (while in New York, you really must see at least one musical), we decided a “midnight snack” was in order. Junior’s is located across the street from the Marriott Marquis Hotel, where we stayed. Although we were not that hungry, we split a pastrami sandwich (very yummy) and then had a brownie-ice cream sundae for dessert.

It will probably not come as a complete surprise that I didn’t eat much over the next few days.

But I will say that my husband was very happy. He said it was the first time we went on a vacation in the last four years and did everything he wanted. And he said I seemed to enjoy myself, too!

So, there you have it – how to make your husband happy!

Karen

As I walked through the office this morning, I saw a few loose fruits on my coworker’s desk. As I looked closer, I realized they were Loquats, a fruit that is a backyard favorite of mine. Also known as the May apple, the Loquat season is short, and most people never get a chance to taste them.

The outside skin resembles an apricot, as the color is a golden orange with a microscopic fuzz. However, Loquats are a member of the Pome family, which includes apples, pears and quince.

The inside flesh is firm, and according to my friend, David Karp, “The texture varies from the crispness of a firm cantaloupe to the juiciness of a ripe peach. The flavor is a pleasant blend of apricot, plum, and cherry, with floral overtones, and is quite sweet when ripe. If you like peaches, apricots, and plums, you’ll love Loquats.”

Loquats actually originate in China, but interestingly, they are also known as the Japanese Medlar or Japanese Plum. (OK, they are known as Chinese Plums, too.) In Italian, Loquats are called Nespole Giaponesse.

You probably won’t find fresh Loquats at your local grocery store because they are very delicate. When Frieda’s distribute Loquats, we have to fly them — they only last a few days after they start to ripen. The best place to find Loquats is a local ethnic market or gourmet shop that specializes in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern foods, or an Asian supermarket.

If you are lucky enough to find fresh Loquats, don’t be deterred if they show a little bruising or dark spots. These fruits are so delicate that even the most gentle handling of the fruit will leave small marks.

If you find them, enjoy them NOW, because the season is very short! (They typically mature in April and May.) If you live in Southern California, you might even have a neighbor with a Loquat tree. Maybe they will share with you!

But, be warned — Loquats have big brown inedible seeds on the inside and you may want to peel off the outside skin before consuming, as it is kind of tough.

Enjoy!
Karen

Karen Caplan's Blog
Jackie, Frieda and me at the Los Alamitos City Council. (FROM LEFT: Councilman Warren Kusumoto; Mayor Kenneth Stephens; Jackie Caplan Wiggins, Vice President of Frieda’s Inc.; Frieda Rapoport Caplan, Founder; Karen Caplan, President; Mayor Pro Tem Troy Edgar; Councilwoman Gerri Graham-Mejia; Councilwoman Marilynn Poe)

My office phone doesn’t ring that often anymore. It seems like more and more people communicate via email now. But late one afternoon about a month ago, the phone rang, and I answered it.

It was Steve Mendoza, a member of the staff at the City Council of Los Alamitos — the small town in which our business is located.

Apparently the city council was well aware of our company’s recent 49th birthday, and wanted to give us special recognition at a city council meeting to be the first to recognize and celebrate our 50th year in business.

So, on Monday, May 16, my mom (Frieda), my sister (Jackie) and I arrived at City Hall. Although I grew up in Los Alamitos, I had never been to the actual City Hall, and it is very quaint.

When we walked into the council chambers, we were greeted personally by several local business owners and of course Mayor Ken Stephens and the various city council members.

It turned out to be a special evening, as also in attendance were about 30 high school students. As part of their government class they had to attend a city council meeting and report on the happenings. Since their writing assignment was due this Wednesday, of course they were all there that evening. Seated in the audience was our own intern from Los Alamitos High School, Rachael.

The mayor was so proud when he read our proclamation. It almost brought tears to my eyes to hear him read about Mom introducing the kiwifruit to America, about being the first woman to start a wholesale produce company in the United States, and about all the difficult-to-pronounce products we have introduced and marketed. Cherimoyas, feijoas, and habanero chiles… to name a few.

When we got up to accept this honor, it was very special to share with the audience of students and community members, that my parents, Al and Frieda Caplan were original home buyers in Los Alamitos back in 1958, and that Mom still lives in that house. And that Jackie and I attended the local elementary, junior high and high schools. And that it truly was serendipitous that we moved our business from downtown Los Angeles to Los Alamitos 17 years ago.

As I finished my remarks, I turned to each of the five city council members and thanked them for their community service. Unlike some of the local cities who have highly paid council members (and have been in the news recently), our leaders are compensated less than $5,000 per year.

I believe many of us live in communities whose elected leaders do so because of their love of the community. Have you taken the time to get to know them and thank them for all they do? Although I had never before met any of the members of our city council, I sensed that they do not get a “thank you” very often.

And, it was lovely that their acknowledgement back to us was that they appreciated our company’s support of the local community.

Win-win… That’s how it should be!

If you want to post your own “Congratulations to Frieda’s Specialty Produce” on the occasion of our 50th anniversary, please click here to post a message on our Facebook page.

Karen

I’m sure you’ve seen the name on fruit drinks, as many beverage companies are labeling their fruit blends or fruit-flavored drinks with the names of exotic fruits (Kiwi-Strawberry, Passion Fruit-Mango, and others). Dragon Fruit seems to be the latest in a line of exotic-flavored drinks. (Last year, the well-known fabric freshener company, Febreeze, ordered a few cases of our Dragon Fruit to feature in the print advertisement for their new Dragon Fruit-scented spray!)

Interestingly, Dragon Fruit doesn’t really have a unique, distinctive or strong flavor. (I describe it as a mild kiwifruit, at best.) But, clearly it does have a cool name.

When Frieda’s first started marketing Dragon Fruit many years ago, we called it by a different name. The fruit was introduced to us as Pitaya or Pitahaya. Pitaya, aka Dragon Fruit, is native to Mexico, Central and Latin America. It also has been cultivated in Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam, to name a few). In those Asian countries, it is known as Dragon Pearl and Fire Dragon Fruit…thus the name Dragon Fruit. A few years ago I also learned that the Vietnamese name for the fruit is Thanh Long, which translates to “blue dragon.” “Blue” refers to the cooling properties of the fruit.

In the United States, Dragon Fruit is grown both in Southern California and Florida. And of course, it grows in tropical Hawaii, but cannot currently be brought to the mainland due to agricultural restrictions.

Right now, we are bringing Dragon Fruit in from Vietnam, by boat. It takes a few weeks for the fruit to arrive here on the West Coast, and as soon as it clears customs and gets to the Frieda’s dock, we ship it out to markets and restaurants all over the country. In July, the Florida crop will become available, and the California season will start in late August. They both last until the “first frost” — usually somewhere between November and December.

So what inspired me to write about Dragon Fruit today? Well, earlier this week, The New York Times ran an article featuring Dragon Fruit, “A Fruit with a Future.” You can read it here.

It’s so interesting how a single story can influence people and purchases. That story in The New York Times will probably cause many more supermarkets across the country to order Dragon Fruit. Produce buyers know that curious consumers, after reading that article, will be on the lookout for Dragon Fruit for weeks to come.

And of course, chefs everywhere are already familiar with Dragon Fruit but may be inspired to include it on fruit platters, in appetizers or as a colorful garnish, more than ever.

If you get to get taste a Dragon Fruit, let us know what you think of it, by posting a comment on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FriedasSpecialtyProduce

Enjoy!

Karen

 

I’m sure you’ve seen the name on fruit drinks, as many beverage companies are labeling their fruit blends or fruit-flavored drinks with the names of exotic fruits (Kiwi-Strawberry, Passion Fruit-Mango, and others). Dragon Fruit seems to be the latest in a line of exotic-flavored drinks. (Last year, the well-known fabric freshener company, Febreeze, ordered a few cases of Frieda’s Dragon Fruit to feature in the print advertisement for their new Dragon Fruit-scented spray!)

White-flesh Dragon Fruit.

Interestingly, Dragon Fruit doesn’t really have a unique, distinctive or strong flavor. (I describe it as a mild kiwifruit, at best.) But, clearly it does have a cool name.

When Frieda’s first started marketing Dragon Fruit many years ago, we called it by a different name. The fruit was introduced to us as Pitaya or Pitahaya. Pitaya, aka Dragon Fruit, is native to Mexico, Central and Latin America. It also has been cultivated in Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam, to name a few). In those Asian countries, it is known as Dragon Pearl and Fire Dragon Fruit…thus the name Dragon Fruit. A few years ago I also learned that the Vietnamese name for the fruit is Thanh Long, which translates to “blue dragon.” “Blue” refers to the cooling properties of the fruit.

In the United States, Dragon Fruit is grown both in Southern California and Florida. And of course, it grows in tropical Hawaii, but cannot currently be brought to the mainland due to agricultural restrictions.

Pink and magenta-flesh Dragon Fruit

Right now, we are bringing Dragon Fruit in from Vietnam, by boat. It takes a few weeks for the fruit to arrive here on the West Coast, and as soon as it clears customs and gets to the Frieda’s dock, we ship it out to markets and restaurants all over the country. In July, the Florida crop will become available, and the California season will start in late August. They both last until the “first frost” — usually somewhere between November and December.

So what inspired me to write about Dragon Fruit today? Well, earlier this week, The New York Times ran an article featuring Dragon Fruit, “A Fruit with a Future.” You can read it here.

It’s so interesting how a single story can influence people and purchases. That story in The New York Times will probably cause many more supermarkets across the country to order Dragon Fruit. Produce buyers know that curious consumers, after reading that article, will be on the lookout for Dragon Fruit for weeks to come.

And of course, chefs everywhere are already familiar with Dragon Fruit but may be inspired to include it on fruit platters, in appetizers or as a colorful garnish, more than ever.

If you get to get taste a Dragon Fruit, let us know what you think of it, by posting a comment on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FriedasSpecialtyProduce

Enjoy!
Karen

I’m sure you’ve seen the name on fruit drinks, as many beverage companies are labeling their fruit blends or fruit-flavored drinks with the names of exotic fruits (Kiwi-Strawberry, Passion Fruit-Mango, and others). Dragon Fruit seems to be the latest in a line of exotic-flavored drinks. (Last year, the well-known fabric freshener company, Febreeze, ordered a few cases of our Dragon Fruit to feature in the print advertisement for their new Dragon Fruit-scented spray!)

Interestingly, Dragon Fruit doesn’t really have a unique, distinctive or strong flavor. (I describe it as a mild kiwifruit, at best.) But, clearly it does have a cool name.

When Frieda’s first started marketing Dragon Fruit many years ago, we called it by a different name. The fruit was introduced to us as Pitaya or Pitahaya. Pitaya, aka Dragon Fruit, is native to Mexico, Central and Latin America. It also has been cultivated in Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam, to name a few). In those Asian countries, it is known as Dragon Pearl and Fire Dragon Fruit…thus the name Dragon Fruit. A few years ago I also learned that the Vietnamese name for the fruit is Thanh Long, which translates to “blue dragon.” “Blue” refers to the cooling properties of the fruit.

In the United States, Dragon Fruit is grown both in Southern California and Florida. And of course, it grows in tropical Hawaii, but cannot currently be brought to the mainland due to agricultural restrictions.

Right now, we are bringing Dragon Fruit in from Vietnam, by boat. It takes a few weeks for the fruit to arrive here on the West Coast, and as soon as it clears customs and gets to the Frieda’s dock, we ship it out to markets and restaurants all over the country. In July, the Florida crop will become available, and the California season will start in late August. They both last until the “first frost” — usually somewhere between November and December.

So what inspired me to write about Dragon Fruit today? Well, earlier this week, The New York Times ran an article featuring Dragon Fruit, “A Fruit with a Future.” You can read it here.

It’s so interesting how a single story can influence people and purchases. That story in The New York Times will probably cause many more supermarkets across the country to order Dragon Fruit. Produce buyers know that curious consumers, after reading that article, will be on the lookout for Dragon Fruit for weeks to come.

And of course, chefs everywhere are already familiar with Dragon Fruit but may be inspired to include it on fruit platters, in appetizers or as a colorful garnish, more than ever.

If you get to get taste a Dragon Fruit, let us know what you think of it, by posting a comment on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/FriedasSpecialtyProduce

Enjoy!
Karen

Growing up in the produce industry and working summers on the wholesale produce market in downtown Los Angeles, my fondest memories are of the wonderful smell of tree ripened summer fruit.

You know what I mean. Peaches, nectarines and plums… These fruits were at their peak of season while I was working summers in high school. If I was lucky, our next door neighbor on the produce market, Giumarra Brothers, would occasionally give us a box of fruit to enjoy.

Well, it’s almost that time of year again.

Over the past few weeks, Frieda’s has been receiving bulletins from many of our fruit grower friends, updating us on their crop projections. I know it’s hard to believe, but some of the biggest grower/shippers (a shipper is a company that packs and sells fruit on behalf of growers) start working with their big retail customers (Kroger, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Albertson’s and all the regional chain stores) at least 6 months in advance to plan their promotional activities, so the fruit is pre-sold before it is harvested.

Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, the tree fruit industry has seen a decline in tree fruit per capita consumption. I’m pretty sure most of that is because consumers vote with their dollars. If you go to the store and buy fruit that looks good but does not taste good, you just don’t buy it again.

Years ago, too many growers thought that the appearance of the fruit was the most important quality – a red blush on the outside skin, or “high color” as we call it in the trade. Many growers planted beautiful-looking fruit that did not taste good when they ripened. Or, they harvested fruit before it was mature, and it never got that juicy, mouth watering ripeness and flavor. So, consumers stopped buying them.

Our industry also found out something incredibly important. Tree fruit must either be kept REALLY cold (35 degrees or colder), or it must be warm (over 58 degrees). If the fruit is held at the temperature zone in between before it ripens (36 – 57 degrees, like in storage or at the supermarket warehouse), it is the “killing zone,” and that temperature range basically kills the flavor of the fruit.

So what does this mean to you, the home shopper?

  1. Buy only fruit that you can consume in a few days.
  2. When you get it home, put the tree fruit on the counter out of the sun and let it ripen up (which it will do quickly). Or if you want to hasten the ripening, put the fruit in a brown paper bag to create a mini ripening atmosphere.
  3. Only after the fruit is soft and smells good can you put it in the refrigerator. But really, you should just eat it!
  4. Don’t refrigerate unripened tree fruit, because your home refrigerator is not usually under 35 degrees… It’s probably around 37 degrees, aka “the killing zone” for tree fruit flavor.

The good news is that growers are aware of the poor practices in the past and there has been a wave of new fruit varieties with fantastic flavor. Many of the old varieties have been “torn out” and replaced with newer varieties. And our industry has spent a lot of research and education dollars letting retailers know best practices for handling tree fruit.

I am looking forward to this year’s harvest of peaches and nectarines. (Nectarines are my personal favorite!) I think we will see some wonderful tasting fruit. Plus, the newest varieties of Pluots (a cross between a plum and apricot) also have some amazing taste profiles.

I would love to hear about your experiences with this year’s fruit crop. Feel free to post your comments on our company Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/FriedasSpecialtyProduce

Enjoy!
Karen

Last week, I spent five days at a leadership retreat in Northern California. I was in Petaluma, which is about 45 minutes north of San Francisco. 50,000 people, 175 restaurants and hundreds of cows. Interesting place.

I attended this retreat with 11 other company CEOs who are a part of my CEO group. I was the only woman. (Find out more about this worldwide CEO organization at www.vistage.com.)

Why did I go to a leadership retreat for five days? That is a long time to be away from my family and my office. Interestingly, I actually did not know anything about the content of this retreat, but believed the Chair of my CEO group when he said, “Just trust me. You need to go.”

Ultimately, I decided to attend this retreat because it was time to refresh myself. The opportunity to completely disconnect from work and my daily life was so inviting. Plus, I sensed that I would learn new things about myself, would learn some new skills and because I am a lifelong learner, I was intrigued.

Over these five days (three of which I had complete laryngitis, which gave me a great opportunity to hone my listening skills), I received assessments from the three group leaders, and my fellow CEO teammates. I shared my assessments of them as well.

As a company CEO, I do not often get honest feedback. That is frustrating to me. But for five days, I got some fantastic feedback about my management style and how I am perceived.

This particular leadership retreat was called “Leadership Dojo” and is part of the program at the Strozzi Institute (www.strozziinstitute.com). Our classes were actually held in a dojo, where we learned some Aikido skills while we had lots of open discussions and went through the curriculum. I never imagined myself doing any kind of martial art, but I can say that I now have a great deal of respect for the discipline and beauty of Aikido.

I think it’s important for every one of us to continue to learn new skills. Just like any professional athlete, I must practice my skills. I benefit from having a coach. I need to make adjustments to my “game,” so that I continue to be ready for the new challenges I will face on a daily basis.

One of the most remarkable things I learned at Strozzi, was the importance of “being centered.” Always making sure I take a moment or two to gather my thoughts, and adjust my breathing and my stance, before responding to requests, before entering a meeting, or dealing with a conflict.

That may sound kind of crazy, but try it sometime.

Directly following my five days at Strozzi, I flew to New Orleans for my industry’s annual trade show. The keynote speaker on the first day was Archie Manning, famed football great (who played at Old Miss) and is father to Payton and Eli Manning.

Archie Manning spoke about leadership. Two of his many quotes stood out to me.

“Being a leader is like being a lady. If you have to tell people that you are one, then you probably aren’t.”

“Leadership is an action word. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do.”

I encourage you to be a leader, and do something to sharpen the tools you have in your leadership toolkit.

Karen