Chapter XV. California's other Contributions to the World's Bill of Fare
By 1874 people in the Eastern states had begun to talk of California canned fruits. Apricots and the large white grape found ready sale, but California raisins, though on the market, were not in demand. That line from the old game "Malaga raisins are very fine raisins and figs from Smyrna are better," represented the idea of the public; and figs, raisins, and prunes eaten in the United States all came from abroad. But how is it to-day?
Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners of our Eastern friends owe much to California. She sends the seedless raisins, candied orange and lemon peel, the citron and beet sugar for the mince pies and plum puddings. Her cold-storage cars carry to the winter-bound states the delicious white celery of the peat lands, snow-white heads of cauliflower, crisp string beans, sweet young peas, green squash, cucumbers, and ripe tomatoes. For the salads are her olives and fresh lettuce dressed with the golden olive oil of the Golden State. Of ripe fruits, she sends pears, grapes, oranges, pomegranates. For desserts, she supplies great clusters of rich sugary raisins, creamy figs, stuffed prunes, and soft-shelled almonds and walnuts. All these and other delicacies California gives toward the holiday making in the East.
But it is not only to the homes of the wealthy that she carries good cheer; to people who have very little money to spend, and those who are far away from civilization, as soldiers, surveyors, woodmen, and road-builders, California's products go to help make palatable fare. To these her canned meats, fish, and vegetables, and canned and dried fruits, are very welcome.
The canneries and fruit-packing establishments of the state bring in many millions of dollars each year and give employment to a host of people, a large number of whom are women and young girls.
Most of the fruits California now raises came into the country with the padres. Captain Vancouver tells us that he found at the Santa Clara mission, at the time of his visit in 1792, a fine orchard consisting of apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots; and at San Buenaventura all these with the addition of oranges, grapes, and pomegranates. Alfred Robinson describes the orchards and vineyards of San Gabriel mission as very extensive. Wine and brandy were made at most of the missions, San Fernando being especially noted for its brandy. Guadalupe Vallejo tells of bananas plantains, sugar cane, citrons, and date palms growing at the southern missions. Palm trees were planted "for their fruit, for the honor of St. Francis, and for use on Palm Sunday."
Not only did the padres enjoy fresh fruits from their gardens, but raisins were dried from the grapes, citron, orange, and lemon peel were candied, and much fruit was preserved. It is not recorded that they had pumpkin pie in those days, but a small, fine-grained pumpkin was raised extensively for preserves. It is still a favorite dainty among the native Californians, and no Spanish dinner is complete without this dulce, as it is called. Spanish-American housewives excel their American sisters in the art of preserving. Pumpkin, peach, pear, fig, are all treated in the same manner, being first soaked in lye, then thoroughly washed and scalded in abundance of fresh water, and then cooked in a very heavy sirup. The result of this treatment is that the outside of the fruit is crisp and brittle, while the inside is creamy and delicious.
The first of California's dried fruits to come before the public was the raisin. Raisins are merely the proper variety of grapes suitably dried. Some think that they are dipped in sugar, but this is not the fact. The only sugar is that contained in the juice of the grape, which should be about one fourth sugar. The only raisin grape for general use is the greenish variety called the Muscat. The rich purple or chocolate color of the raisin of the market is caused by the action of the sun while the raisin is being cured. If dried in the shade the fruit has a sickly greenish hue. The seedless Sultana is a small grape, fast coming into favor for a cooking raisin.
The proper planting of a raisin vineyard requires a large amount of care and labor. But the summer is one long holiday, as there is little to do to the vines from early May until August. Then comes picking time. From all the country round gather men and women, boys and girls, and the work begins.
To be a successful raisin grower and packer, one must take care in all little things. The workman who neglects to cut from the branch the imperfect or bad grapes, or who lays the fruit in the trays so that it will be in heaps or overlapped, is apt to be soon discharged. After about a week of exposure to the sun and air, the grapes are turned by placing an empty tray over a full one, and reversing the positions. Then after a few days longer in the sun, the fruit goes to the sweat-box, a hundred pounds to the box, and is placed in a room in the packing house, where it lies about ten days. The bunches go into this room unequally dried, with still a look and taste of grape about them, but after this sweating process they come out uniform in appearance, rich, sugary, tempting, - the raisins of commerce, with little suggestion of the fruit from which they came. Then they are boxed.