Ahhh. Spring Break. The much needed break between Christmas and Summer Vacation. I was looking forward to some time off from the hectic school and sports schedule we had been running since January.
Many head to warmer climes for spring fling. Google an image of Ensenada, South Padre Island, or any beach in Florida this week and you will see what I mean. Midwest and East Coast people need to thaw out.
But not us SoCal people. We’ve had warm weather since January. Not complaining by any means, but a blast of coolness would be a welcome treat for our spring break vacation. So we headed north, to Yosemite National Park.
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the founding of Yosemite. Scottish immigrant John Muir spent years exploring the area of Yosemite. He drew up the proposed boundaries of the park, helping to lead to its creation in 1890. Muir wrote, “Everybody needs beauty . . . places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”
It was our first visit to this beautiful park. Half Dome was happening. The waterfalls were flowing. The sequoias were stupendous. And it was 79 degrees. No matter, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were rejuvenated by the stunning vistas and spectacular sights.
Any road trip requires driving miles. Our route took us through central California’s San Joaquin Valley. As we logged those miles, I was reminded of two things: our golden state grows a lot of nuts, and even more fruit.
In fact, I saw several billboards touting things like: “We grow 100% of the almonds in the U.S. – and we’re ‘nut’ joking,” “No water = No jobs,” and “Selma: Raisin Capital of the World.” I was intrigued by that last one. Was Selma, California really the raisin capital of the world?
After doing a little sleuthing on the calraisin website and other raisin industry sites, I discovered that, yes, Selma was indeed the raisin capital of planet Earth. Around 3,500 growers spread out over 200,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley produce 100 percent of the raisins in the United States and 45 percent of the raisins in the world.
I was speechless while gazing upon the sequoias earlier in the week, but that agricultural fact was nearly as stunning. Every raisin you and I have eaten in the U.S. comes from the acres of land on either side of Highway 99. Astounding.
Of the 350,000 tons of raisins yielded each year, two-thirds are eaten in the U.S. and Canada. The other one-third is exported to over 50 different countries, with the majority of it going to Japan and the United Kingdom.
You may be wondering, what kind of grapes do these raisins come from? The majority are made from Thompson seedless grapes. These grapes were first introduced to California in the 1870s by another Scottish immigrant, William Thompson. He grew this seedless grape variety on his ranch in Northern California. The long, hot growing season in the San Joaquin Valley has made it the ideal place to grow these grapes that will eventually become raisins.
Arriving back home, I had a newfound appreciation for raisins. I wanted to make something that celebrated our state’s raisin prowess and found a recipe in the “Every Day with Rachel Ray” magazine.
This week’s yummy recipe is adapted from her Cran-Nut Barley Salad recipe. The original calls for dried cranberries, but I decided to substitute dark and golden raisins after our drive through Selma on Highway 99.
You’ll notice this recipe also has whole grains in it, which brings the number of our whole grain recipes this year to a total of four. Enjoy this salad as an entrée (add cooked, chopped chicken for more protein), as a side dish, or do as I did this morning and have it for breakfast.
Highway 99 Raisin-Nut Barley Salad
Serves 4 to 6
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tsp. fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ Tbsp. orange zest
½ Tbsp. lemon zest
2 cups cooked barley
2 cups parsley leaves
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
1/3 cup raisins
4 scallions, thinly sliced
In a medium bowl, whisk oil, juices and zests. Toss with remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.