How much do you know about raisins? Think you know a lot, right? I mean, what is there to know about raisins, after all? They’re just shriveled, dried grapes. Or so I used to think, but you don’t know what you don’t know as they say. I recently headed down to Fresno, CA to see the raisin harvest in progress and I learned a great deal. That little shriveled grape? He’s a pretty interesting guy with a remarkable history. He also happens to score very well in the nutrition department. Okay, so he’s not exactly low carb, but he is healthy and gluten free. Our house is almost never without raisins as it is, but now I am even more keen on keeping them around, for both the kids and the adults.
You will be hearing a fair bit from me about this tiny powerhouse over the coming months. As part of the California Raisins campaign, I get to work with some other wonderful bloggers, as well as with Relish Magazine (keep your eyes out for a recipe contest!) and the wonderful people at the California Raisins Marketing Board. And I plan on bringing you some innovative raisin dishes, including some low carb recipes. You know me, my little mind has been whirring from the get go.
The Harvest Tour itself was so much fun. We had a chance to taste raisins right off the vine, as well as having a blind taste test of many varieties at the Circle K Ranch. Ron Kazarian, the owner of Circle K, played tour guide and patient teacher to our blogger group. Did you know that raisins are dried entirely in the California sun? It’s one of those things I never even thought about, really, but it was a surprise to hear that they aren’t at all mechanically dehydrated. There are two methods of sun-drying; one is to pick clusters of grapes and lay them on paper on the ground by the vines, facing the sun. The other, a newer and perhaps more productive method, is to let them dry completely on the vine (DOV or dried on vine).
We also got a chance to visit the National Raisin Company packing plant, one the main packing facilities in Fresno. We saw the raisins from the whole cleaning and sorting process through to packing and shipping. I got a kick out of seeing boxes with the logos of my local grocery stores and wholesalers, waiting to be shipped. We also had a lovely lunch and nutritional talk at the California Raisins Marketing Board (CRMB) headquarters. More on that later, because I’d like to devote more time to the nutrition of raisins in another post.
Finally, we ended the day at the beautiful home of Dennis and Janelle Wilt. Dennis’s family has been in the raisin farming business for over 100 years, and he also happens to be the Chair of the CRMB. Our hosts were truly delightful and a delicious gourmet meal was prepared for us by Chef Mike Siegel. And yes, raisins were part of the menu. The hospitality we received was incomparable, and it certainly didn’t hurt that we dined al fresco, surrounded by rows upon rows of vines.
So you can see why I have a new-found appreciation for raisins. I always rather thought of them as the workhorse of dried fruits, pleasant enough but not necessarily that interesting. Now, however, I can see their wonderful range of variation, how they can be used in so many sweet and savoury recipes, and that they are quite the nutritional powerhouse. I’m sold. Viva La Raisin!