Not your Mother’s Potatoes

                                                                                                  *touch cursor to the screen for image labels

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Robert Schueller greeted our group warmly at Melissa’s Produce in Vernon, CA.  It seems I was the only journalist from IFWTWA (The International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association) who hadn’t had the pleasure before.  Sorry to have missed hatch green chiles last time, though.

In a twist from the conventional, we see fruits and vegetables that have been around forever, and then some.  The presentation stuns us with color and bounty.  We learn that many items are grown in southern California, yet the table we see is surprisingly international: brussell sprouts from Mexico, Dragonfruit from Vietnam. As our spokesperson introduces us to each tasty slice and sumptious soup, we’re treated to Corporate Chef Tom Fraker’s preparations and tips. Our palates reacted positively to a grand fall sampler.

My take-aways:
*Melissa’s boasts ruby gold potatoes, and DYPs (Dutch yellow potatoes). They are all small, from 1-2 bites, and they sing when tossed in olive oil and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Crops are often from ID, ME, CO.
*Robert, company spokesperson for 19 years and a wonderful host, credits Thomas Jefferson with first serving French fries in the White House, early 1900’s.
*A 16-ounce bag of organic baby garnet yams is the best. To the sweet potato vs. yam controversy, he claims the potato with thin skin and colorful inside is a sweet potato, always.
*Squash staples such as acorn, butternut & spaghetti squash are now complemented by newer, smaller delicata, carnival, and sweet dumpling, with adorable names and intense flavor.
*The most popular produce in November shouldn’t be tough to guess: sage, pearl onions, cranberries.
*Maybe you can taste a color difference in the creamed tricolor pearl onions; maybe not-but they’re sensational. If you find it tricky to slip the skins, simply cut the stem and immerse in boiling water for 30 seconds, offers Chef Tom, who has worked here 18 years in the test kitchen.
*I support substituting brussell sprouts for those tired beans on your holiday table.  If you can, purchase them au naturale, as they continue to derive life from the stalk. These are grown hydroponically, like butter lettuce. The stalk isn’t edible, however.  The vegetable is deliciously nutty brushed with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and roasted.
*After shaking up the veggies, go for persimmons!  There are choices beside Fuyu and Hachiya-try the cinnamon variety. The chef treated us to quince butter (cooked with vanilla bean, sugar and water) and pomegranate seeds atop each slice.
*Did you know?  The Bible mentions 4 fruits: quince, dates, figs, and pomegranates.
*Melissa is the daughter of founders Sharon and Joe Fernandez, born 9 months after the company started. The website states it is the largest distributor of specialty produce in the U.S.


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