Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Season NW: Kiwi Berries

Farah Ramchandani hopped in her utility tractor and tooled down one of the long, grassy aisles on her 12 acres of kiwi berry vines, picking the occasional berry off of a branch, looking for the perfect one for sampling. She spied a candidate and popped it in her mouth.

"Oh, oh!" she yelped, victorious. "I tell you, this is so delicious. Just eat one!"

Born in Iran, Farah moved with her family to the United States when she was a teenager because her father, who was Baha'i, believed it was his moral duty to educate his daughter as much as his son.

"He just felt he needed to do that, so he brought us here," she said.

Ramchandani eventually graduated from UCLA’s School of Public Health and, after a career spent as a health educator, she and her husband bought the Nine Star Ranch in Wilsonville in 2005. It was already planted with the kiwi berries that the previous owner had sold to markets in Japan. Though she knew nothing about farming and was soon dubbed "the Green Acres lady" by some of her neighbors, she dedicated herself to learning about the unusual fruit.

As a health professional, she was intrigued by what she found out about these small green fruits that look like grape-sized, fuzz-less kiwis. "They have more vitamin C than oranges, more potassium than most fruit, lots of vitamin A and very few calories," she said. "They also have a lot of fiber; 31% fiber in six ounces.

"I think the American public needs to know about this fruit," she said with the zeal of a former teacher. "Forty years ago people didn't know about the avocado and how good it is."

Farah and her husband worked to get the orchard in better shape and committed themselves to getting it certified as organic. And she's justifiably proud of their efforts. As she passed under the golden canopy laden with ripe fruit, she grabbed a berry and handed it to me. "There's no spray, no nothing, we just won’t do it," she said. "So you can eat them right off of the branch."

At their best nutritionally when eaten fresh, she's partial to slicing them in half and tossing them in a salad of greens and local cherry tomatoes sprinkled with a peanut dressing or mustard vinaigrette. To keep them a little longer, she suggested freezing them on trays, then storing them in a zip-lock bag in the freezer.

Look for her berries to start appearing soon in many local stores under the Ladybug label. Check out this gallery of photos from my trip there taken by photographer Leah Harb.


Sarah said...

How interesting! I've seen these at New Seasons and had no idea what they were. Will have to try them soon...

Kathleen Bauer said...

They're terrific for packing in lunches or for snacking, and the flavor is, imho, even better than kiwis. Enjoy!