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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
One major advantage of being a local guy writing for local folks is that I get lots of comments (almost always positive in nature) from loyal Produce Profilers. I also get thoughtful suggestions for future articles. Such a suggestion came my way this morning from one regular reader, let's just call him "Joe Reader".

Joe got a bright idea and shared it with me. He said, "You know what you should write about?" My simple reply was, "No, what?". I was expecting something like, oh, peanuts, okra, maybe specialty fruit. Instead he replied with a four letter word which begins with the letter "F". "Fish!", he said enthusiastically. I chuckled then, like I'm chuckling now. Maybe Joe figures I have more latitude and expertise when it comes to my subject matter.

In all fairness, we did talk about sea vegetation like sea beans, kelp and the like which would make for interesting produce reading. The sea-based seeds of this future article have been planted. Today instead of a go-round about flounder, salmon or smelt you'll have to settle for the interesting tale of a once exotic but now commonplace fruit, the kiwi.

Although the kiwi is relatively new to American fruit eaters, it goes back a recorded 700 years, and probably much more, to its native China. The "Yang tao" is really a clinging vine that grew wild and wrapped around trees. Today it has been tamed, trellised and is grown like grapes. About 90 years ago, plants were imported to the States while seeds were planted in New Zealand. But it was not until the early 1960's that cultivation on any commercial scale began here in California.

It was during this same time that New Zealand grown kiwifruit was being imported to the US. The moving force behind this effort was an energetic specialty produce pro, Frieda Kaplan. She is the one who coined the name "kiwi" from the more common, but not quite marketable, "Chinese Gooseberry".

Even through the 1970's the kiwi, due to its fuzzy exterior and dazzling emerald green interior, was more of a novelty than a legitimate contender in the battle for produce turf.

Then came the '80's, Reaganomics, leveraged buyouts and the kiwifruit! This tasty, little fuzzy fruit was becoming trendy, and was included in every recipe short of kiwi polenta with slivers of wilted arugula. Talk about over exposure. The kiwi was on more magazine covers than Oprah Winfrey. And this popularity contest was making cash registers sing in the highest octaves.

Kiwi consumption jumped by seven times between just 1980 and 1985, and ten times between '80 and '92. That's a lot of icy green flesh.

Unlike many of the kiwi wanna-bees which followed, there are many reasons for such a sudden popular appeal. Growers love them because-
a) kiwi vines bear heavy for a long period of time,
b) are not attractive to most bugs and other pests,
c) can be picked over a short period of time and the BIG D) they can be stored for about six months without a loss in quality or nutrition.

Kiwi vines flower in late spring, grow like mad in the heat of the inland California summer and are picked mature, but rock hard in the fall. Once the crop is in cold storage, supplies are fed into the marketplace until about May. But that's only half of the story.

Then the crop from the Southern hemisphere, Chile and New Zealand, becomes mature, and we northern hemisphere dwellers dine on that crop until November. And the kiwi just keeps rolling along. The result is that we get inexpensive, delicious and nutritious fruit every month of the year.

On the nutrition side of things, kiwi packs a major wallop. One large kiwi has almost twice the RDA of vitamin C, a major dose of potassium, lots of fiber, and even trace minerals like magnesium. A big player in the nutrition game.

Most of the fruit available in the markets are usually on the firm, and tangy side. You can just leave them out at room temperature to ripen on their own, but I've found that they tend to shrivel noticeably before they sweeten. To hustle up this ripening process, put them in a bag with a banana, pear or an apple. The naturally produced ethylene will quicken the kiwi ripening. Once this mission is accomplished, store it in the refer away from said fruits and it should keep another week, and probably more.

They can be eaten fuzz and all, which gives you that tangy,extra fiber boost! But most often they are peeled and sliced crosswise to expose the beautiful seed and color pattern. They taste very good in smoked fish, poultry or garden salads. Sliced kiwi makes a healthy topping for breakfast cereals, oatmeal or pancakes. There are about 459 other ways to enjoy the sprite flavor of kiwi so maybe a bit of cookbook looking with bear fruit.

Hey, maybe it does taste great with polenta and wilted arugula!! P.S.The above mentioned Frieda Kaplan, founder of Frieda's Inc., an innovative specialty produce supplier, has brought on her two daughters, Karen and Jackie into the produce world. Karen has found time to put together an amazing assortment of recipes in a colorful and easy-to-read cookbook called the Purple Kiwi Cookbook. (There is not really a purple kiwi, but..... it's a long story!) For a copy, log on to www.friedas.com or call 1-800-241-1771.