Tuesday, May 29, 2001

California Raisins

We're down to the last of the red boxes of raisins that we bought in bulk some time ago. About the size of a box of caramels, they came 24 in a package. In about 2 months, we've had them for breakfast, used them in cakes, and gave them to friends. At about 27 yen a box, that means we used about 1/3 of a box per day for a cost of 8 yen/day. It may seem like a lot, but my wife also made a jar of rum raisins which we still have. I'd be interested in knowing just what the raisin consumption is in the United States, the heart of the world's largest producing region.

When she saw the red box of raisins, my 77 year old mother exclaimed, "Oh, this really brings back memories." My mother used to eat these raisins out of the box when she was young. That means, then, that the packaging hasn't changed since the mid 1920's. Although the United States is the world's leader in technology, it also seems to respect time-honored traditions. Raisins are produced in Kingsburg, California, located in the San Joaquin Valley. A huge 9 feet replica of the red raisin box is at the entrance to the 130 acre processing plant. Founded in 1912, the grower-owned cooperative presently consists of 1600 vineyards located within a 25 mile radius of the plant. They decided on the name "Sun-maid" in 1914, using a play on the words "made" and "maid". The picture used on the front of the box has changed slightly three times since then, but the model has always been the same.

Sun-maid raisins are produced from Thompson Seedless Grapes. This thin-skinned, light-green grape, when dried in the sun, becomes the dark purple color, characteristic of raisins. Beginning in the spring, the grape vines are regularly irrigated, a process which continues through the summer. During late August, when the grapes have attained their optimum sweetness, the grape bunches are hand-picked and arranged on rows of clean paper trays next to the vines. They are left to dry naturally in the sun for two to three weeks and then placed in wooden bins and transported to the processing plant. One pound of raisins is equal to approximately 4 pounds of grapes! The size package that I bought was first introduced in 1921. Mothers in the U.S. apparently packed them in lunches for their children to take to school. So, on average, children in the U.S. would eat a box a day--three times what we consume here in Japan!

- MT

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