While most of us are ready for the weather to cool down so we can wear our sweaters and sip our Pumpkin Spice Lattes, there are some people that are doing a little happy dance right now because the temperature is still in the 90’s. Those people are the California raisin growers. Right now, in a 60 mile radius of Fresno, CA almost one third of the world’s supply of raisin grapes are being harvested to make raisins.
Little Miss and I had the opportunity to visit a ranch in Madera during the harvest to see the raisin making process in action. We learned that there are 3 ways to make raisins from grapes, we saw the packaging process, then enjoyed the afternoon making Oatmeal Raisin Cookies together.
Grapes grow in spring and summer and rely on the heat of July and August to develop a higher sugar content to make a beautiful plump fruit that is ready to be picked. Have you ever stopped to think about which grapes make raisins? I always thought raisins came from darker grapes and golden raisins from green grapes but I have been wrong (and am admitting it in writing just this once). Most raisins are made from natural seedless grapes of all different varieties but most raisins start as green grapes that turn dark as they dry.
It takes about 4 1/2 pounds of grapes to make about a pound of raisins. When visiting the field I didn’t even want to whisper or think about rain but after seeing the grapes drying in the sun, I really understand how much power Mother Nature has on agriculture, especially as it pertains to making raisins. This is because a lot of the raisin making process relies on the sun so 1 rainy day can wreak havoc on the entire process.
The first way to make raisins is by hand picking the grapes and laying them on a paper tray to dry in the sun. As the sun dries the green grapes, they shrink and turn a dark purple color. After 10-14 days, depending on the weather, the tray is then rolled like a “cigar,” then the sun helps to even the moisture in the roll. Then crews come and pick up and separate the raisins from the trays to take back to the warehouse for cleaning, sorting, and packaging the raisins.
The next method is known as DOV (dry on the vine.) This method is exactly as it sounds, when the grapes remain on the vine to dry. This process takes a little longer to dry, but can be a little safer as the grapes dry off the ground in the case of rain. The dried grapes are removed by machine. This method has grown in popularity over the years.
Grapes can also be picked fresh and dehydrated in drying tunnels. This method is most often used for golden raisins as they receive a special treatment to help retain the golden color.
Once the raisins are in the warehouse, they go through impressively large machines to separate out any stems or debris from the fields, they are cleaned, and picked through and then packaged to send out. The process is very controlled and regulated. Each day an inspector from the USDA is on premise to make sure all food safety procedures are being followed. At this point the raisins are packed and ready to ship out. They are shipped all over the world. Snacking on raisins is popular everywhere from Europe to Asia.
Little Miss and I took some raisins home to bake our own goodies, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. As much as she enjoyed eating the raisins out of the field, she really loved making cookies. I did my best to let her take control in the kitchen and measure out all of the ingredients. This is a great way for kids to build fine motor skills, gain confidence, and be more adventurous when it comes to trying new food.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
1 1/3 cup oats
3/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
6 TB butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350º
In a large bowl mix brown sugar and butter with a hand mixer until it is fluffy. Then stir in egg and vanilla and beat until everything is smooth.
In a medium bowl combine the oats, raisins, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Use a spatula to fold the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.
Use a tablespoon to measure the cookies on a cookie sheet about an inch apart.
Bake for 12 minutes. Once you see that the edges are golden brown remove the tray from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Enjoy!