Dietribes: Raisin d'Etre

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From the 1812 battle cry "Remember the Raisin!" to the groundbreaking (and Tony award winning) "Raisin in the Sun" to baseball (Fresno's first professional baseball team was founded in 1908, with the team's official name being the Fresno State League Club. They were, however, nicknamed the "Raisin Eaters"), the raisin is a staple of our culture and our trail mixes. Regarding the raisin, here is what I've heard through the grapevine ...

"¢ 1873 brought about a happy accident for raisin lovers. Though grapes, prunes and currants had been rattling around since Roman times, the commercialization of the seedless raisin started with William Thompson of California. In Fresno County, a sundry of his grape bunches dried by accident, creating the first raisin crop. It was transported to San Francisco and sold as a "Peruvian delicacy."

"¢ Thompson can also be credited with taking the seeds out of his grapes, and therefore his raisins. Now the Thompson Seedless Grape is used to make 95% of California raisins, which are sorted by lasers at the plant.

"¢Â Speaking of the California Raisins, whoever thought a Claymation commercial for raisins would be so popular should be knighted. Those singing raisins certainly made dried fruit hip. And how many of you out there owned the toys and remember the Christmas Special?

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"¢Â Besides the California Raisins, the most iconic raisin image is probably that of the Sun Maid raisin girl. The original model, Lorraine Collett, was spotted while in her backyard in Fresno, CA. A watercolor portrait of her was later trademarked, and the original red bonnet worn has faded to pink and is now on display at the Smithsonian.

"¢Â According to the History of Raisins, during World War I "war cakes" regained popularity, along with mock mince "meat" pies made with raisins. The dried grape also found favor as a portable and durable foodstuff for the Allied soldiers. With the demand for high-energy foods and sugar substitutes escalating during World War II, the War Production Board ordered California's entire wine grape crop be made into raisins.

"¢ Raisins are of course also a healthy snack. Children living in the postwar city of Berlin delighted in packets of raisins dropped for their benefit by planes participating in the Berlin Airlift. These planes become known as the "raisin bombers." The farthest a raisin has traveled? Space! Robert E. Peary has taken raisins to the North Pole and astronaut Scott Carpenter also packed them as a snack in space.

"¢ There are plenty of ways to enjoy raisins, and you can start by enjoying some raisin wine. What other ways do you consume this tasty dried fruit, or what traditional dishes do you add it to?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

"˜Dietribes' appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

November 12, 2008 - 6:46am
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