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Raisins from tray to table

California crop finds a place in the sun


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Here's an easy trivia question for you: What do you get when you take grapes and a whole lot of sunshine? You get raisins, of course!  

There are two types of raisins: dark and golden. Dark are the most well known. They begin as green grapes and naturally darken as they dry. These raisins are usually the product of Thompson seedless grapes. Most golden raisins are also the product of Thompson seedless grapes and are kept light in color through the use of sulfur dioxide.

With their convenience and versatility, it's easy to see why believe raisins to be the perfect 21st century snack. And while they may have a point, raisins are also one of the oldest foods around. First mentioned in biblical times, they may have been discovered by accident when grapes were left to dry on a vine.

Centuries later, surprisingly not much has changed in how raisins are produced: Take some grapes, add some sunshine, and presto, you've got raisins! But truth be told, making raisins is no simple task. At farms like Steve Spate's near Selma in the Central Valley, harvesting raisins is a well-orchestrated dance.

"The crew comes through and cuts the grapes off the vine and puts them into a pan with about 18 to 25 pounds of grapes," he said. "Then they put those on a thin sheet of paper, which we call a tray. In approximately 10 days under good weather conditions, we'll come back and roll those trays up."

Although making raisins the old-fashioned way, like Steve does, is a tried-and-true method, it is also very labor intensive. Some farmers have gone another route and switched to mechanical harvesting. This method actually allows the grapes to dry on the vine, and then a machine comes through and harvests the grapes onto the trays.

No matter how the raisins are harvested, inevitably they end up at places like the nearby Caruthers Raisin Packing Co., where workers carefully inspect the fruit throughout the entire process. In fact, they even have inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture onsite every day to ensure the raisins meet industry standards.

After inspection, the stems are removed and the raisins are cleaned, using large vacuums, graders and shakers to remove any foreign matter. Then they are washed using fresh water, which ultimately rehydrates them and plumps them up before they're packaged and shipped to a grocery store near us!

For more information about California-grown raisins, visit www.calraisins.org.


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