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Produce handling in developing economies

There is a wide schism between the sleek mechanical harvesting machines that briskly traverse California’s fertile croplands versus the field worker with a machete and head-basket, or possibly a donkey laden with woven baskets, that is still most commonly found in many nations.

Produce loss continues to be a significant problem. Worldwide, it is estimated that as much as one-third of the produce grown is never consumed by humans (Kader, 2005). Many logistical challenges contribute to this loss, including: ineffective or absent cooling systems, slow and rough transportation, physical damage from rough handling, and poor sanitation conditions.

In 2010, one of the most popular free titles available on the Postharvest Technology Center’s website was “Small-Scale Postharvest Handling Practices: A Manual for Horticultural Crops.” Written by Lisa Kitinoja and Adel Kader, and currently translated into 10 languages, this title was downloaded by over 22,000 readers last year. While this useful resource is very popular in the United States among small-scale farmers, over 8,000 readers benefitted from the useful content translated into Indonesian, 4,000 from the Vietnamese translation, and over 3,000 from the Arabic translation. Readers learned information about the curing of tuber crops, designing picking poles and catching sacks to gently harvest fruit, and efficient designs for packinghouse layout.  (Link to all ten translations are found under the section “Small-Scale Postharvest Practices” at:

“Many simple practices have successfully been used to reduce losses and maintain produce quality of horticultural crops in various parts of the world for many years,” asserted Lisa Kitinoja of Extension Systems International. “You don’t necessarily need costly handling machinery and high-tech postharvest treatments to be able to deliver quality produce to the marketplace. However, effective management during the postharvest period is key to reaching the desired objective.”

While most California produce shoppers are grateful for the quality and variety available in our markets, it’s nice to know that an effort is being made to improve the produce available to others not quite as fortunate as we.

Photo: Kumasi retail produce market, courtesy of Adel Kader.

Posted on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 8:11 AM
  • Author: Mary E. Reed

Chili Five-O

So you're seeking a panel of judges for your chili contest.

It's a good idea to find a firefighter and a detective – a firefighter to extinguish any four-alarm fires, and a detective to scrutinize the ingredients.

And, of course, someone who absolutely loves those exquisitely hot – did I say hot? HOT! – jalapeno peppers.

That's exactly what happened at the 2011 Solano County 4-H Chili Cookoff, held Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Riverview School, Rio Vista. Toni Tucker of the Rio Vista 4-H Club pulled it all together.

The judges: Detective Vicki Rister of the Rio Vista Police Department, Assistant Fire Chief Dan Schindler of the Montezuma Fire Protection District in Rio Vista, and Chef Riccardo Bahena Antunez of the Taqueria Mexico Restaurant in Rio Vista.

They all know their way around a kitchen. They do, indeed. For instance, Detective Rister began preparing meals for her family when she was only 7. She  worked her way through college (criminal justice, Sacramento State University) by waitressing and cooking.

The judges scored 10 dishes prepared by 4-H'ers in Dixon, Vacaville, Suisun, Rio Vista and Vallejo. This was not for the weak-hearted; the teams sported such monikers as "The Red Hot Chili Peppers," "Howlin' Hot Chilimakers," "Chili Banditos," "Super Awesome Chili" and "Cool Beans" (so hot the 4-H'ers had to cool down by wearing sunglasses).

The judges easily detected the subtle flavors: coffee here,  cocoa there, and oh, yes, isn't that a touch of semi-sweet dark chocolate?

Less than an hour later, a winner. The Chili Five-O team from the newly formed Wolfskill 4-H Club in Dixon.

Five-Oh? Because they've been dreaming of vacationing in Hawaii.

“We can't afford to go to Hawaii, and besides, we don't have time – we’re too busy with 4-H projects,” said team member Hannah Crawford-Stewart. “So we thought, why not make a chili based on food from the tropics?”

They did. They created a chili chunked with pineapple and laced with coconut milk and named it “Chili Five-O.”

Hannah, 13,  and her fellow cooks Kaylee Lindgren, 13, Madison Pitto, 9 and Spencer Currey, 15, wowed the judges with their tasty chili studded with ham, sausage, fried and diced pork, and two kinds of beans, kidney and pinto.  "We tested it about 10 times before the contest." Hannah said.

They thought of every detail. They wore Hawaiian attire. They decorated their table in an island motif. They greeted the judges with “aloha!"

The crushed macadamia nut topping was optional. The smiles were not.

“The chili was awesome,” said Rister. “They tested it, tried it and came up with something different. It’s a great recipe.”

Schindler and Antunez agreed.

The judges praised the  “nice kick” and  “good finish” of the chili and the friendliness, enthusiasm and knowledge of the “aloha” team.

Here's the wining recipe:

Chili Five-O
By Hannah Crawford-Stewart, Kaylee Lindgren, Madison Pitto and Spencer Currey of Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon

2 cups ham, fried and diced
1 pound sausage, cooked
1 pound pork, fried and diced
2 cups diced onions, cooked to translucent
13.5 ounces coconut milk
15 ounces carrot juice
16 ounces crushed pineapple and juice
5 cups carrots, diced
1 cup celery, diced
5 cups dried pineapple, diced (small)
Two 16-ounce cans kidney beans
One 16-ounce can pinto beans
5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
1 tablespoon garlic, minced

Cook meat and onions. Combine with liquids and mix well.  Add spices, carrots, celery, pineapple and beans. Cook over medium heat to soft boil (5 minutes). Reduce heat and simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally. Serves 12. Optional topping: crushed macadamia nuts.

* * *  *

You won't forget to eat your vegetables in this dish.

Eat-Your-Vegetables Chili
By “Howlin’ Hot Chilimakers” Kiara Madden, Riley Currey and Daniela Setka of the Wolfskill 4-H Club, Dixon

3 cups French onion soup
1-1/2 cups northern white beans
1-1/2 cups kidney beans
1 cup chickpeas
1 cup lentils
1 cup red, green and yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup carrots
2 cups summer squash (zucchini and crookneck squash)
1-1/2 cups eggplant
1/2 cup portabella mushrooms
1/2 cup onion
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons coriander
2-1/2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
6 ounces root beer
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup masa flour
5 strips of bacon, crisp

Broil eggplant and mushrooms. Dice all vegetables. Cook beans and lentils in French onion soup. Add all ingredients except bacon and cook for 45 minutes on high or crock pot for 4 hours. Crisp bacon and chop. Mix in right before serving. Serves 15.

Don't be surprised if Super Bowl Sunday turns into a "Souper Bowl of Chili."

Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8:10 AM

Color, color and more color

When my daughter was a young swimmer, she wanted to collect a ribbon of every color. Picking up on this, my husband and I encouraged her to eat many colored fruits and vegetables as a game. Red strawberries, green kiwis, and hmmm, what kind of fruit is white? Bananas! Then we have green cucumbers, red peppers, purple eggplant. You get the picture. 

We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, so why not make it a game? If you had an orange with your cereal for breakfast, have a spinach salad with red onions, mushrooms and sprinkle of bacon for lunch and blueberries on yogurt for your afternoon snack. Let’s see, that covers orange, green, red, white and blue. I guess we’re having a spaghetti dinner! It’s interesting that much of the nutritional value of a particular vegetable can be found by just looking at the color of it.

  • Red — lycopene, anthocyanins — Heart and circulation health, urinary tract health, memory function
  • Yellow/orange — carotenoids, bioflavenoids — Vision health, healthy immune system, heart health
  • White — phytochemicals — Cholesterol levels, heart health
  • Green — indoles, lutein — Healthy bones and teeth, vision health
  • Blue/purple — anthocyanins, phenoles — Healthy aging, urinary tract health, memory function  Phenol

Now that we know what the colors do for us, let’s make sure to keep all the nutrients we can. After planning, shopping and preparing, you don’t want to cook the health right out of your veggies! Of course most people eat their fruit raw, which, in general, is the best thing to do with all fruits and vegetables. An exception is tomatoes. Heat processing actually enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing the lycopene content that can be absorbed by the body, as well as the total antioxidant activity. The best way to cook veggies is to steam or stir-fry for the shortest time possible. If you can avoid it, don’t boil your vegetables as their nutrients leach into the water.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that keep you and your family healthy and thriving. Try adding more colors to your diet today starting with this delicious recipe from Family Fun magazine.

Chicken Lo Mein

The best part about this colorful dish is its versatility -- you can pick and choose the vegetables you include to accommodate your family's tastes.

  • 1/2 pound angel hair pasta
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 4 to 5 shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced


  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sugar snap pea pods, halved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Chinese baby corn, drained and cut in thirds
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size strips
  1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions until just tender. Drain out the water. Rinse the noodles with cold water, drain them well, and then set them aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, chicken broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Then set the sauce aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large wok or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the ginger for 30 seconds. Then add the onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and carrots and stir-fry 2 minutes more. Finally, add the broccoli, pea pods, and corn. Stir-fry the vegetables for 2 more minutes, then transfer them to a plate.
  4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pan. Add half of the chicken and stir-fry it until it's no longer pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer it to another plate. Stir-fry the remaining chicken, then return the first batch to the pan. Add the cooked noodles, vegetables, and sauce. Turn the heat down to medium.
  5. Using two spatulas or wooden spoons, lightly toss the mixture until heated through, about 3 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 8:13 AM

Stomach share

What would you think if someone told you that they were fighting for a “share” of your stomach?  Bring to mind organ harvesting? Invasion? Theft?

I first heard this term a month ago when I took part in a gathering of food experts. Someone recalled recently overhearing soda company executives brainstorming how they could increase what they referred to as “stomach share.” They were seeking to expand their product lines (from sodas, to juices, waters, and exercise drinks) to make sure that whenever someone drank a beverage, any beverage, it was theirs. What was particularly disturbing, he recalled, was how little the consumer figured in the equation. The goal was to get product into stomach, as often as possible.

The story reminded me of another phrase I’d come across in my research for my book Empty Pleasures — “prosperity stomach.” Coined in 1966 by Henry Schacht, an executive from a diet-food company, and mentioned in his talk that year to newspaper editors called ‘How to Succeed in Business without Getting Fat,” the phrase referred to a troubling problem faced by the food industry. Because people (at least the middle class) did less manual labor and could easily (and cheaply) purchase abundant food, they had begun to worry about weight gain — and count calories. This was causing sales to decrease, and, in turn lowering the profits for food companies and marketers. Schacht’s answer? Diet Foods. By developing more foods with fewer calories, the industry could sell more by promoting it as less.

“Stomach share” and “prosperity stomach” — terms invented nearly 50 years apart — remind us that there are real reasons why it is so difficult to consume only when we are hungry.  Given their resonance, the wonder is not that our stomachs have expanded, it’s that they have not expanded even further.

Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 8:18 AM

Getting to know persimmons

On a wet and gloomy winter afternoon, there are few sights more cheering to my eyes than a persimmon tree loaded with its brilliant fruit, hanging from dark boughs like a mass of orange lanterns. But if you come across this bright spectacle on a winter's walk, don't rush to take a bite of that tempting fruit unless you're sure you know what's what.

See, there are persimmons, and then there are persimmons.

The type of persimmon that you can eat right off the tree is the Fuyu variety (left), a firm-fleshed, yellow- to orange-skinned fruit that is flat on the bottom and wider than it is tall—sometimes twice as wide. You can eat the fresh, sweet fruit like an apple or cut up in salads or you can dry it on the stem or cut in slices for a home dehydrator.

The fruit of the other main variety, Hachiya (right), is far from sweet when its flesh is firm. Hachiyas are orange to almost red, often somewhat pointed at the bottom, and about as tall as they are wide, sometimes taller. If you bite into one of these before it ripens, your mouth may stay puckered for week. If you can wait until the flesh is soft, though—almost as squishy as a water balloon—you will find something inside that's almost like ready-made jam. Just don't eat any of the peel if you don't want a pucker. You can dry Hachiya persimmons, hung from a cut-off bit of stem, or bake the fresh, ripe fruit pulp in a variety of recipes. Here's one:

Aunt Pat's Persimmon Cookies
This recipe for Hachiya persimmon cookies has been in my family for generations and is always a special treat in the cold months. The cookies have a moist, cake-like consistency and can be eaten fresh or bagged up by the dozen and stored in the freezer. They're quick to thaw and they taste great. We usually make a double or triple batch just to take advantage of the fruit's availability, so cookie storage can be an issue.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

1 egg

1 cup Hachiya persimmon pulp (about 3 ripe [very soft] persimmons)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Drop the dough in generously rounded teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a pre-heated 350° oven for 12 to 14 minutes.

More on Persimmons

Check out these links for more information on preserving, preparing, and growing persimmons:

(Photos: Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:53 AM

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