Herb likes to flaunt the fact that no other place in the world can produce the “Three Winter A’s” like California – he may be wrong, but he still likes to boast. In winter, he says, California has the best of the best – Avocados, Artichokes, and Asparagus.
Avocados, like bananas, are fruits which are picked green and ripen off the tree. Although there are seven main varieties, Hass is the most popular cultivar grown – there is even a Lamb Haas cultivar (sorry, no relation). Although originally imported from Mexico in the 1800’s, 50% of the world’s production now comes from California, and a full 95% of the US avocado production comes from California – mostly in San Diego County! So, Herb has his bragging rights after all. In February 2011, 8 million pounds of avocados were eaten (mainly in the form of guacamole) during Super Bowl weekend. Our trees at HL vineyard are now 4 years old, but have had a difficult life in our freezes and heat waves – we count on Jennifer’s brother’s grove in Arroyo Grande to get us through the year, and fortunately he enjoys Napa Valley wine in trade. Win/win!
Artichokes were grown originally in Northern Africa, but have wound their way around every noble finger as a delicacy since the middle ages, and were brought to the US in the early 19th century, traveling to CA with the first Spanish immigrants. 100% of all US artichokes are grown in California (we win!), primarily in Castroville, Monterey County. Steamed and eaten with drawn butter or a lemon aioli, they are a true winter delicacy. Although an acquired taste, artichokes can be found as hearts in salads, as a dip or soup base, or fried as appetizers throughout the country. Their pungent green-vegetable flavors don’t really pair well with wine, but we’ll take them anyway. In Herb’s annual trek to Monterey County for his vineyard tours, he often returns with multiple cases (8-12 count) of colossal/jumbo Globe artichokes from Pezzini Farms in Castroville, the “Artichoke Capital of the World” (or so their sign says!)
Asparagus is the final “A” crop from California. A long, young, finger-like shoot that grows in the winter, it is said that early cooks including Apicius mentioned this vegetable in ancient 3rd century AD cook books, and later royalty had special green houses built to ensure its survival. Although Peru and China rank higher in production, California, specifically the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where it was first introduced in the 1850’s, is third in the world and the top growing region in the US. Local growers supply us with crates of these beauties, especially around Easter, and we eat and share and can the spears until we can stand it no more! Preserving asparagus in spices and vinegar, however, will allow the spears to age beautifully all year long, and are a necessity for all Sunday morning Bloody Mary’s!
Eat all you can of these lovely, pungent winter fruits and vegetables before the weather warms – all too soon you’ll have nothing but tomatoes and zucchini in your garden!