Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Summer's Bounty at the Watermelon Tour of Tanaka Farms

Summer is just around the corner and soon one of my favorite fruits will be in season, the juicy watermelon. If you enjoy watermelons just as much as I do or even just sampling the freshest produce possible, than you should check out Tanaka Farms in Irvine, CA. Currently, they're conducting strawberry tours, but when I was there last summer, it was all about the watermelon. My eyes are glazing just thinking about taking a juicy bite out of one of them right now.

More ...

Before I tell you about the tours, let's learn more about Tanaka Farms. Operating since 1998 and amidst all the development around Orange County, Tanaka Farms has been growing fruits and vegetables all year round. Around Mid-March, they open up their produce stand right next door to their fields, where you can purchase up to 50 different organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables.

Tanaka Farms also features farm tours. From March to June, they do strawberry tours. July through August focuses on watermelon tours. October is all about pumpkin tours and December is the time for Christmas trees. While each tour has a particular focus due to the seasonality of a particular fruit or vegetable, the tours are all similar. On that note, let me share my Watermelon tour experience with you, which revolved around a wagon ride we took around their 30 acre farm. The wagon ride started right around the corner from their produce stand.

On that wagon ride, we had a guide who gave us the history and background of Tanaka Farms and he also talked of and answered any questions we had about farm life, about growing practices, about the various produce grown on the farm and whatever else came to mind. Along the way, we'd stop and sometimes sample fresh vegetables literally right off the vine, with the watermelon being the final stop of our journey.

Our first stop was a small banana grove where our guide gave us some banana facts. For example, did you know that the banana plant is not considered a tree, but the world's largest perennial herb and is a member of the lily family? Also, bananas aren't fruits, but berries. Berries are identified as being many seeded with a fleshy inner layer. Another thing he shared, which I already knew, is that the banana flower is edible and in fact, used in a lot in Southeast Asian cooking. It's also used in Filipino cooking and I should know since my Mom includes it sometimes in the dishes she makes. Unfortunately, the bananas weren't ripe so we couldn't try any.

After our stop at the banana grove, we headed to the cherry tomato patch. If you didn't know already, tomatoes aren't vegetables but are actually considered to be fruits because tomatoes have seeds. In fact, other vegetables that are technically classified as fruit include bell peppers, chili peppers, cucumber and even zucchini. They all share the same characteristics of having seeds, but of course, you'll never see them in the fruit section of your local market. In a way, it's as if there are both savory and sweet options of fruit to choose from. It was at this cherry tomato patch that we were able to sample sun-ripened tomatoes that tasted so fresh and so sweet.

Next on the tour was a corn field where I had raw corn, pulled off the stalk and cut in quarters for us to take a bite out of. Wow! It was crunchy and sweet. I could have easily have snacked on whole cobs of that corn as a replacement for popcorn and would have been perfectly satisfied.

After the corn field, we headed off to a carrot patch where carrots were pulled earlier in the day for us to savor. The color of those carrots wereso vibrant and although I've been repeating this word for the last two paragraphs, those carrots were sweet and like the corn, they were crisp, too. All the produce up to that point were just bursting with flavor. It was just so amazing. Compared to what you get from your local grocery store, all these vegetables were just so much better and more enjoyable to eat.

I was feeling pretty happy at this point, but still looking forward to the watermelon portion of our tour. With everything tasting so fantastic up to this point, I could only imagine how wonderful the watermelon was going to be. Our last stop before heading back was next to these tents where underneath them, benches awaited us. Once seated, we got to sample even more fresh fruits and veggies.

The first two included fresh, crisp and refreshing zucchini and cucumbers.

Then we moved on to cantaloupe, which were also sweet and refreshing.

Finally, it was watermelon time with the red watermelon making an appearance first followed by samples of the yellow watermelon. By the way, did you know that yellow watermelons are actually sweeter than red watermelons, but because the appearance of the red watermelon seemed more ripe looking, it was grown more and became more mainstream than the yellow watermelon. Both of the watermelon were worth the wait. Considering how hot it was that day July day, both watermelons really helped to cool me down from the inside out.

I could have easily sat there and noshed on watermelon all day, but it was time for the tour to end and before we headed back to our starting point, we got to choose a watermelon to take home with us. We didn't get to pick them ourselves from the watermelon patch, but there was a selection at the end of each watermelon row and we chose from those piles.

Overall, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. Given that there's no shade while you're on the wagon tour, I recommend everyone brings a hat. If you plan ahead, you can even bring a picnic lunch to enjoy after the tour, since there are also areas where you can sit and eat around the produce stand. As for the produce stand, everything we sampled on our tour and more is available for purchase. What a way to enjoy summer's bounty at home.

To see pics, go to:

Tanaka Farms
5360 3/4 University Dr
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 653-2100



EatTravelEat said...

I think I have driven by this place before but I have never visited it! I agree, all the produce looks so fresh and delicious! The watermelon is so enticing. I want some of it now!

pleasurepalate said...

ETE: You definitely have to check it out when the yellow watermelon is in season or just stop by in general, all the produce is absolutely fantastic.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abby,

Thanks so much for the great post and pics through Tanaka Farms. Wow, this looks like fun and it's pretty compelling. :)

pleasurepalate said...

EK: I'm glad you enjoy the post and pics. Tanaka Farms is a real cool place. Right now, they're doing strawberry tours and have combined it with a cookout after the tour of some of their fresh produce. You should check it out.