Edible Monterey Bay

WHAT'S IN SEASON

KIWIS

PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK TREGENZA
SYLING BY DIANE GSELL

Robin Gammons and his wife Nancy have been growing kiwis on their farm in Aromas for more than 30 years.

A burst of flavor and color to brighten up the dreary days of winter


I distinctly remember falling in love with kiwifruit. It was the summer of 1989 and I was on a road trip in a camper with my best friend Mindy and my aunt and uncle. We were headed up the coast from Los Angeles to Canada and I remember every time we stopped to gather provisions, I bought loads of kiwis. I ate them obsessively while we played gin rummy, bracing myself on the curves of Highway 1 while looking out the window at the dramatic coastline. This is also when I fell in love with Big Sur and the Central Coast. I credit the vitamins and sugar in those kiwis for helping me beat my friend in countless card games during our long trek.

Surprisingly, kiwis have more vitamin C than an orange per cup. Just one cup of kiwifruit has 276% of our necessary vitamin C, which boosts our immune system to ward off colds and flu. Too bad sailors didn’t know about kiwis when they suffered from scurvy; they could have loaded up on the long storing, tasty fruits instead of eating lemons! Kiwis have a lot of fiber and an important enzyme that helps digest proteins called protease. If you eat a couple each day, they will also help reduce blood clotting and fat in the bloodstream.

NAME DROPPING

Kiwifruit is native to China and dates back to the 12th century. It was originally called Chinese gooseberry—yet oddly it is not actually in the gooseberry family. Over time, plants migrated to New Zealand, leading to the beginning of commercial cultivation in the early 20th century when both American and British soldiers became fond of the fruit. By the 1950s kiwis began to be exported to Great Britain and California.

But it was during The Cold War and the name Chinese gooseberry was not going to help market this exciting, new fruit. The name was briefly changed to “melonettes” but shippers quickly realized that name wasn’t going to work either, because both melons and berries had high import tariffs. Brainstorming ensued at a New Zealand marketing firm leading to the name kiwifruit and that became the official name in 1959 in a nod to the place it became popular. Kiwi is a type of bird, but also a common nickname for people from New Zealand.

Currently China produces half of the world’s kiwifruit, Italy the second most and New Zealand the third. The U.S. has about 8,000 acres in production, with most of the kiwi farms in California. The world currently produces about 170,000 acres, equal to an estimated 1.7 million tons of kiwifruit.

Actinidia deliciosa, the fuzzy light brown kiwi we are used to eating, are the size of a large chicken egg and have black edible seeds within their striking green flesh. However, New Zealand kiwi grower-shipper Zespri offers a “sun gold” yellow kiwi that is much sweeter, and will be introducing a red fleshed variety, described as having “berry-tinged flavor.” However, all have fuzzy skin.

There are also smooth-skinned “hardy” kiwis, Actinidia arguta and Actinidia kolomikta, which can survive temperatures down to 10 degrees. These cousins to the common fuzzy kiwi are the size of a grape and can be eaten whole. The plant, grown in the Pacific Northwest, is more of a bush than a vine, and looks completely different than its kiwi cousin. Hardy kiwis have become a novelty, and are now being marketed as “kiwi berries.” There is also a rare hardy kiwi with red skin that Rare Fruit Grower groups are propagating, however it is not yet available commercially.

GROWING KIWIS

For planting, pick a site that has full sun, is protected from the wind and has well-drained soil. Kiwis do well on drip irrigation and like to be kept moist, however soil needs to be well draining because they are susceptible to root rot. Both female and male plants are needed to produce fruit, so for every eight females you will need one male plant for even pollination. Plants will need to be spaced 10–15 feet apart as they grow vigorously and produce heavy fruit—up to 100 pounds per vine. A sturdy T-bar trellis system is required and it needs to be tall enough to be able to walk under to harvest the hanging fruits.

Even though kiwis reach their full size around August, you must wait to harvest the vines until the seeds have turned black. By late October through mid-November the fruit will have developed enough sugar content to be harvested. But at harvest they are still hard and inedible until they further ripen off the vine. Sugar content goes from 4% at harvest to 15% when ripe. Kiwis will also ripen on the vine, but farmers take the crop off all at once and store it until they sell it. In this way, kiwifruit are a great crop to store, sell and eat all winter long.

In the winter, plant a cover crop between the rows and turn it under in the spring. Kiwis take about four years to grow a full crop, although you will get a few fruit before then. In the spring, summer and fall, apply a well-balanced, organic pellet fertilizer.

Kiwis need to be pruned heavily (70% off the vine) each December to let in light to ripen the fruit and keep diseases and fungus away. Fruit forms on new growth, so it is important to cut off old growth to stimulate the new.

FOUR SISTERS FARM

Four Sisters Farm grows two acres of certified organic kiwis, along with specialty greens and flowers in Aromas. Nancy and Robin Gammons named their farm Four Sisters after the four daughters they had within six years in the 1970s. Robin’s father planted the original orchard on their property in 1986 after reading that kiwis were the exciting, up-and-coming specialty crop that would grow well in their microclimate. Yields in earlier years were up to 40,000 pounds a season, but they still harvest from this orchard. After 30 years in production, the kiwi vines continue to produce a crop that would make Robin’s dad proud, but closer to 14,000 pounds per acre. Four Sisters Farm kiwis are sold at three farmers’ markets—Downtown Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Ferry Plaza in San Francisco. Nancy says originally kiwis were overplanted in California, as people learned about the interesting new fruit. Farmers thought they would make a lot of money on kiwis and then found out differently. For Four Sisters, however, it is a great crop going into fall and winter when its other crops are finishing up. They start harvesting in the beginning of November and sell them all winter until they run out, usually in April. One of the Gammons daughters is interested in farming and as Nancy says, “One out of four isn’t bad!” Her daughter Jill grows flowers on the farm and utilizes beautiful, twisted kiwi vines in her floral arrangements.

HOW TO EAT

I love kiwis on fruit tarts. I once peeled, sliced and dipped them in melted chocolate and froze them for a tasty treat. I have made delicious kiwi lime curd and a kiwi chutney, and included kiwis in a fresh salsa. Try mixing chopped kiwis with mangos, papaya and fresh mint, and placing on top of a fish dish or simply eat on top of yogurt.

There are many ways to skin a kiwi, if you will. I learned the easiest method from a child I babysat long ago. Cut in half and scoop with a spoon. You can also cut off both of the ends and remove the skin gently by pushing a spoon inside along the inside of the peel until the round chunk of kiwi falls out. This is the easiest way to get the whole kiwi out to slice it prettily for tarts, and makes quick work of peeling. I asked Nancy of Four Sisters Farm how she cuts and eats her kiwi fruit and she said she eats them like an apple, fuzz and all! I was surprised at her response, and thought her hard core, but then what farmer isn’t?

I wondered if there were any benefits to eating the skin and it turns out kiwi skin has 50% more fiber than the fruit itself. The skin contains pectic polysaccharides that retain water and form a gel which is good for your gut. It also has cellulose, hemicelluloses and pectin, which add bulk and facilitate efficient digestion. So go ahead and slice the kiwis thinly with the skin attached to be sure to reap all the benefits. Or throw them in a blender, skin and all, to make a fabulous smoothie—your stomach will thank you!

RECIPE

Kiwi Ice Cream

Recipe courtesy of Nancy Gammons, Four Sisters Farm
Photography by Patrick Tregenza, Styling by Diane Gsell

LOCAL FOODS IN SEASON
DECEMBER, JANUARY AND FEBRUARY

Kiwis are harvested in November and ripen off the vine over the winter.

FRUITS

Apples • Asian Pears • Avocados • Grapefruits • Grapes • Guavas Kiwis • Kumquats • Lemons • Limes • Mandarins • Oranges Parsnips • Pears • Persimmons • Pomegranates* • Pomelos

VEGETABLES

Artichokes* • Arugula • Asparagus** • Beets • Bok Choy • Broccoli Broccoli Raab • Brussels Sprouts • Burdock • Cabbage • Cardoons Carrots • Cauliflower • Celeriac • Celery • Chard • Chicory • Collards Cress • Dandelion • Endive • Fava Greens • Fennel • Garlic • Horseradish Kale • Kohlrabi • Leeks • Mushrooms • Mustard Greens • Nettles Onions • Orach • Parsnips • Potatoes • Radishes • Rutabagas • Salsify* Shallots • Spinach • Sprouts • Winter Squash • Sunchokes Sweet Potatoes • Turnips

SEAFOOD

Abalone • Anchovies • Cabezon • Dungeness Crab • Rock Crab Starry Flounder • Pacific Grenadier • Herring • Lingcod • Rock Cod, aka Rockfish • Sablefish, aka Black Cod • Pacific Sanddabs Dover Sole • Petrale Sole • Rex Sole • Spot Prawns

*December only ** February only
All fish listed are rated “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

About the author

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Jamie Collins is the owner of Serendipity Farms and has been growing organic row crops at the mouth of Carmel Valley since 2001. She distributes her produce through a CSA, u-picks and farmers’ markets.

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