Farmer Spotlight: California Prunes

Victor Martino - California Prune Farmer

As Autumn approaches, so does plum harvesting season and, for Bella Viva, pleasing plums mean pleasant prunes. The season only lasts around 30 days total and it’s vital to get the fruit picked before they over-ripen and start falling on the ground – especially before fall and winter rains – yet still right when they’re ripe enough. This year’s harvest season is right on target!

Every step to ensure the plums are cared for thoroughly and to their full potential takes ultimate dedication. Bella Viva makes certain we know our farmers, and who’s more passionate about Bella Viva than owner Victor Martino himself! That’s right, our plum farmer is Victor and he puts his heart and soul into everything he does.

The Martino Family started plum farming and prune making in the 1940’s when Victor’s father decided to give it a shot. Victor likes to reminisce about his childhood afternoons when he and his siblings would pick plums then go through a difficult process to dry them into prunes. They would cut a 55-gallon metal drum in half, place it on a stand over a fire, and fill it with water to boil. Next the siblings would fill a bucket made of screen with the plums that would become prunes and dip it into the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Plums have skins that make it tough to get the moisture out. Dipping into the boiling water was Victor’s job as a youngster. The reason for the dipping would cause the skins on the plums to crack or break, allowing them to dry a lot faster.

That process of drying sure has changed over the years for the better and has improved in quality and productivity. In fact, what used to take two weeks on the older method now only takes a mere 24 hours on this new method which consists of using a four-square dehydration tunnel. Selecting the best variety of plum in which would make the best prune has also been key to deliver you the best product.

“We (Bella Viva) use the Moyer variety,” Victor said. “Moyer, are a bit bigger than some others. Compared with the French, they have a slight more tang in the skin. When dried, they’re slightly denser in texture. We also hand-pick the plums to ensure we pick the right, fully-ripe fruit.” The weather conditions in California are exquisite for the ultimate plum also. California consists of 95 percent of all domestic, fresh plums all its own (01). A lot of success has to do with the rich soil and latitude being just right. Victor explains there’s other factors behind growing a perfect plum than that though.

“We have hot days and cold, wet winters here in the Central Valley,” said Victor. That’s usually what happens here anyway. However, the most recent California drought, which lasted years on end, had quite an impact on the crop. In fact, it affected all the Bella Viva crops overall. During that timeframe, Victor ended up having to remove an entire quarter of his orchards in order to have enough water for the remaining 3/4. He claims it to be one of the toughest trials throughout his many years of farming. Victor and his family stuck to their roots through the tough times though and successfully made it through. He could have easily given up, but it’s simply not in his blood. In fact, his favorite thing about farming is witnessing the circle of life.

Simply put Victor states “planting the trees, watching them grow, seeing flowers bloom then turn into fruitlets and seeing that turn into mature fruit is like watching a miracle. (The flowers) turn into these wonderful, magnificent things called fruit and the plums, those turn into incredible prunes that we can share with others to enjoy.”

He can also be found eating prunes right out of the bag on just about any given day, tasting the sweet, robust flavor while knowing just how beneficial they are toward health. Outstandingly, prunes are a superfood. According to numerous sources, prunes are actually one of the highest in terms of antioxidant capacity out of all foods (02) (03) (04)! They’re also full of fiber so Victor tries to limit himself – although the challenge is real because they’re his favorite out of all our dried fruits!

At Bella Viva, the Dried Jumbo Whole Prunes and Dried Pitted Prunes we offer are both of the Moyer variety. Our Organic Dried Pitted Prunes are of the French Variety. All are super scrumptious and universal in the ways of usage. You can eat them right out of the bag or add them to countless recipes – all the while being aware the product you’re eating has been directly cared for by the hands of the company’s owner! What a great feeling!