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.

There are generally three grades: very choice clusters, ordinary and imperfect bunches, and loose raisins. Raisins of the third class are sent to the stemmer and a large proportion of them then go to the seeder. Seeding raisins for mother and grandmother at holiday times used to be the duty and pleasure of the older boys and girls of the household. But seeding is now done by machinery. A machine will seed on an average ten tons daily. Before entering the seeder the raisins are subjected to a thorough brushing, by which every particle of dust is removed. They are then run through rubber rollers which flatten the fruit and press the seeds to the surface; then through another pair of rollers, with wire teeth which catch and hold the seeds while the raisins pass on down a long chute to the packing room, where women and girls box them for market.

With all fruits the drying process is much the same, though peaches, apples, and pears are first peeled. California figs, when dried, sell well. This is a fruit which is growing in favor, whether fresh, preserved, or dried. Fruit canning is an interesting process. The fruit is not boiled in sirup and then placed in cans, as is frequently the custom in home preserving, but when peeled it is placed directly in the cans, in which it receives all its cooking and in which it is finally marketed.

The raising of beets and the converting of them into sugar form an industry which is growing rapidly, and is of the utmost importance to the people of the Pacific slope.

The canning of fresh vegetables is a new industry which is bringing into the state a steady stream of money, and in addition is proving a double blessing to thousands of people, both those who gain from it their living, and those who could not otherwise have vegetables for food. A sailor said recently that if he could not be a sailor he would do the next best thing - can vegetables for other sailors. When Galvez received the order from the king of Spain to found settlements in Upper California, one of the chief reasons for so doing was that fresh vegetables might be raised for the sailors engaged in the Philippine trade. To-day the Philippines use a large portion of California's canned goods.

In the southern counties olive orchards are being extensively planted. Near San Fernando is the largest in the world, covering thirteen hundred acres. Doctors have said that a liberal use of California olive oil will do much to promote the good health of mankind, and it is thought by many that the manufacture of olive oil will be one of the greatest industries the state has known.

Nut raising is keeping pace with fruit in importance. To an Eastern person it seems strange to see nut-bearing trees cultivated in orchards; though profitable, this method does away with the pleasures of nutting parties.

California's crystallized fruits are in constant demand, especially for the Christmas trade. This crystallizing is a process in which the juice is extracted and replaced with sugar sirup, which hardens and preserves the fruit from decay while still keeping the shape.

One sometimes reads the saying, "Fresno for raisins, Santa Clara for cherries and prunes, and the northern counties and mountain-ranches for apples." But in fact, California's fruit industries are well distributed over the state, and the really excellent work which is being done in all sections will still advance as the people learn more of the necessary details and methods.

In spite of mistakes and experiments the steady progress on the California ranches is being recognized. Of one of our leading fruit growers, Mr. Eliwood Cooper of Santa Barbara, the Marquis of Lorne writes in the Youth's Companion: "He has shown that California can produce better olive oil than France, Spain, or Italy, and English walnuts and European almonds in crops of which the old country hardly even dreams."

A history of California's products would be incomplete without a reference to him who is called the "Wonder Worker of Santa Rosa." "Magician! Conjurer!" are terms frequently applied to Mr. Luther Burbank, the man who is acknowledged by the scientists of the world to have done more with fruits and flowers than any other man. Mr. Burbank waves his wand, and the native poppy turns to deepest crimson, the white of the calla lily becomes a gorgeous yellow, rose and blackberry lose their thorns, the cactus its spines. The meat of the walnut and almond become richer in quality, while their shells diminish to the thinness of a knife blade.

Yet in these seeming miracles there is nothing of "black art" or sleight of hand. The experiments of this wonderful man, the surprising results he gains, are obtained, first by a close study of the laws of nature, then, where he desires change and improvement, by assisting her process, often through years of closest application and unceasing toil. He is a man of whom it is truthfully said, "He has led a life of hardships, has sacrificed self at every point, that he might glorify and make more beautiful the world around him." Any boy or girl who knows something of how plants grow and reproduce themselves will find great pleasure in following Mr. Burbank's simple methods.

It is only recently that his countrymen have begun to appreciate the work of this great naturalist. A short time ago a resident of Berkeley, a student and book-lover, one who knew Mr. Burbank but had given little attention to his productions, was in Paris. While there he had the good fortune to be present at a lecture delivered before a gathering of the most eminent scientists of Europe. In the course of his address the speaker had occasion to mention the name of Luther Burbank. Instantly every man in the audience arose and stood a moment in silence, giving to the simple mention of Mr. Burbank's name the respect usually paid to the presence of royalty. It is a name now known in all the languages of the civilized world, and numbers of the wisest of the world's citizens cross the ocean solely to visit the busy plant-grower of Santa Rosa.

Luther Burbank was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1849, and while yet a lad his strongest desire was to produce new plants better than the old ones. His first experiment was with a vegetable. For the sake of getting seed, he planted some Early Rose potatoes in his mother's garden. In the whole patch only one seed-ball developed, and this he watched with constant care. Great was his disappointment, therefore, when one morning, just as it was ready to be picked, he found that it had disappeared. A careful search failed to recover the missing ball, but as he thought the matter over, while at work, it struck Luther that perhaps a dog had knocked it off in bounding through the garden. Looking more carefully for it, he found the ball twenty feet away from the vine on which it had hung. In it were twenty-three small, well-developed seeds. These he planted with great care, and from one of them came the first Burbank potatoes. The wealth of the country was materially increased by this discovery; the wealth of the boy only to the amount of one hundred and twenty-five dollars, which he used in attending a better school than he had before been able to enjoy.

In 1875 Mr. Burbank, to secure, as he said, "a climate which should be an ally and not an enemy to his work," moved to Santa Rosa, California. For ten years of poverty and severe toil he was engaged, for the sake of a livelihood, in the nursery business, making, in the meantime, such experiments as he had time for. During the next twenty years, however, Mr. Burbank was able to give nearly his whole time to his nature-studies. His energy is tireless, and his aim is to supply to humanity something for beauty, sustenance, or commerce better than it has possessed.

Perhaps among all his productions the greatest good to the world will arise from the spineless cactus. The scourge of the American desert is the cactus, commonly known as the prickly pear, the whole surface of which is covered with fine, needlelike spines, while its leaves are filled with a woody fiber most hurtful to animal life. When eaten by hunger-crazed cattle it causes death. After years of labor Mr. Burbank has succeeded in developing from this most unpromising of plants a perfected cactus which is truly a storehouse of food for man and beast. Spines and woody fiber have disappeared, leaving juicy, pear-shaped leaves, weighing often twenty-five or fifty pounds, which, when cooked in sirup, make a delicious preserve, and in their natural state furnish a nourishing, thirst-quenching food for domestic animals. The fruit of this immense plant is aromatic and delicate, and its seeds are at present worth far more than their weight in gold, since from them are to spring thousands of plants by means of which it is believed the uninhabitable portions of the desert may be made to support numberless herds of cattle.

Another of Mr. Burbank's achievements is the evergreen crimson rhubarb, which is not only far less acid than the old variety, but richer in flavor and a giant in size.

The pomato, a tomato grown on a potato plant, is most interesting. The plant is a free bearer, having a white, succulent, delicious fruit, admirable when cooked, used in a salad, or eaten fresh as our other fruit.

The experiments with prunes conducted at the Santa Rosa ranch have been of the greatest value to the state. For forty years the prune growers of the Pacific slope had been searching for a variety of this fruit which would be as rich in sugar and as abundant a bearer as the little California prune of commerce, and yet of a larger size, and earlier in its time of ripening. Mr. Burbank with his famous sugar prune filled all these requirements, and revolutionized the prune industry of the state. Besides this triumph he has succeeded in obtaining a variety of this fruit having a shell-less kernel, so that the fruit when dried much resembles those which are artificially stuffed.

The flowers which Mr. Burbank has evolved by his methods, and those which he has simply enlarged and glorified, are far too numerous to be named here.

In 1905 a grant of ten thousand dollars a year was bestowed upon Mr. Burbank by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., for the purpose of assisting him in his experiments. Seldom has money been better placed.