Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Raisin Birthday

Who's that girl? Doesn't she look familiar? Here's a hint. Are you baking a batch of raisin oatmeal cookies for the holidays? What about Raisin Gingerbread? Well, take a nibble for the Sun-Maid Raisin Girl, today is her birthday! Not really. Well, really. You see, the California Raisin Sun-Maid Girl was an actual person. Yes, unlike Betty Crocker and a host of other food icons and trademark figures of their creator's imaginations, Lorraine Collett Petersen, the girl pictured on boxes of Sunmaid raisins, was born on December 9, 1892 in Kansas City, Missouri. She was a mere eighteen years old when she originally posed for the portrait by artist Fanny Scafford of San Francisco. She has been adored ever since. Lucky for us, the complete story of the Sun Maid Raisin Girl is available at the Sun Maid website. Take a look at it. It's a feel good story, easy to read and it isn't long.

Through the years, the Sun-Maid Girl has gone through a few changes. This booklet published in 1922 by the California Associated Raisin Company is titled Sun Maid Raisins; Their Food Value and 92 Selected Recipes. I'm guessing the portrait is the one of Lorraine Collett that became the company's logo in 1916. It's my understanding she was once again updated in 1970 and recently has been digitized:( for the 21st-century. The story of the California Associated Raisin Company is quite interesting and I hope to celebrate its cooperative next year.

As for the Sun-Maid Raisin Girl, well, her portrayal of a red bonnet farm girl toting a tray of grapes afforded her a small part in a movie called Trail of the Lonesome Pine directed by Cecil B. De Mille and based on a novel of the same name. Although it was a minor part, it paid more than the $15 a week she got paid as a part-time seeder/packer and trademark poser. Unfortunately, her father disapproved of his daughter's "stardom" and made her come home. According to an article published in the New York Times, in 1983, "she later ran a Fresno California restaurant for two years, converted a former hospital into a nursing home and retired as a nurse." She died of natural causes at the age of 90.

Blazing in the Sun

There's a touch of mystique encircling the sun's effect on the sweetness of the grapes and the characterization of the California Raisin Girl, don't you think. It was the scorching heat of the Fresno sun that forced Francis T. Eisen to market his dried grapes as "Peruvian delicacies" and, it was the glow of the sun which sparked a company executive to select Lorraine Collett as the raisin sun girl. By 1923, the wrinkled raisin is a leading specialty representing about one-tenth of the county's income, while Raisin Day on April 30th became an annual celebration.

We all know how incredibly versatile raisins are. Ancient physicians prescribed raisins as potions that could cure everything from mushroom poisoning to old age. Raisins are also instilled in the history and legends of Panettone.

A gin soaked raisin recipe may be used as a folk cure for arthritis, or simply for snacks or baking in cookies. Many who suffer from arthritis attribute symptom relief to eating gin soaked raisins, as suggested by Paul Harvey. Arthritis is hard to cure completely, but there are alternative approaches that can address the underlying causes as well as provide pain relief. This is a very simple gin soaked raisin recipe. (get the recipe)

Soft, sweet, and bite-sized, raisins make a delicious healthy treat. They can be added to granola and trail mix, or used to add color and sweetness to salads and cereals. Plump soaked raisins can be added to cookies, muffins, and breads. (plump them by soaking them in liquid for 15 minutes or simmer them for several minutes.) Raisins store well especially if stored in the fridge in a tightly sealed plastic bag. For longer storage, you can always freeze them. They thaw quickly! An easy way to hand chop raisins is to lightly coat them with about a teaspoon of oil.

For his 1962 flight, Pillsbury supplied Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter with amazing new high-protein cereal snacks and Nestle sent along "bone-bones" of cereals with raisins and almonds. Today we call these granola bars. (source)

Did you know it takes about four pounds of fresh grapes to make one pound of raisins. Naturally, I would like to share a recipe from the enclosed raisin booklet. I've chosen to scan a page that includes a raisin sauce recipe, marguerites, raisin cocktail and green pepper pickle. I also wanted to include a few additional raisin sauce recipes from The Roman Cookery of Apicius (translated & adapted for the modern kitchens by John Edwards) and published in 1988. The recipes include raisin sauce for poached fish and raisin thyme sauce for braised meats. I didn't find similar recipes online but I must admit, I didn't look very far:)

Raisin Sauces
for poached fish
2 lbs. poached fish fillets
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. celery seed (or lovage)
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tbs. chopped onion
1/4 c. dark raisins
1/4 c. white wine
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/2 c. fish stock
1 tbs. olive oil or butter
In a mortar, grind pepper, celery seed and oregano. Combine with onion and raisins and blend with wine , honey, vinegar, fish stock and olive oil or butter. Poach the fish fillets with the sauce for 10 minutes and serve in sauce.
for braised meats
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. celery seed
pinch of fennel
sprig of fresh mint
4-5 peppercorns (or juniper or myrtle berries)
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 c. mead or 1 tbs. honey
1 c. beef, pork, or other meat stock
savory to taste
In a mortar, first grind together pepper, thyme, cumin, celery seed, fennel and fresh mint. Add to peppercorns and raisins. Combine with mead or honey and stock. Heat and stir in savory, to taste. A 1/2 hour before meat is done, drain meat and pour sauce into pan with it. Finish cooking the meat in the sauce.

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you know I don't usually endorse any of the books I might mention in my posts. I don't because this blog is a personal endeavor and a labor of love not money. However, every now and again, I come across a book that sparks my interest and today I would like to share it with you. I'm not going to discuss it, I'm just going to give you a link where you can review its contents. I will tell you, I am going to look into it for my grand children. The title of the book is How Do You Raise a Raisin? The author is Pam Muñoz Ryan; illustrator Craig Brown (cute) It received an award from the Science Books & Films Best Books List and is for children from ages 5-8.

Booklist - August 31, 2003
Sticky and sweet, raisins are such a universally popular snack that they come in boxes sized to fit a child's hand and have traveled to outer space with astronauts. In lighthearted, four-line rhyming queries, Ryan wonders where and how raisins grow and how they get from grape vines to grocery stores. Her questions are answered in no-nonsense text, with raisins' nutritional benefits, product development, and "a little raisin history" spelled out at the book's end. Brown's robustly colored art, with bold black lines and stippled details, energizes the text, depicting rows of grape vines stretching to the California horizon as well as the cutting, drying, and collecting processes. His whimsical pictures often play with the humorous rhymes, as when a contented raisin soaks in a tub of purple bubble bath with a yellow rubber duck. The no-bake recipes for raisin treats are a bonus to this delectable book, which, like its subject, packs a lot of value into a small package.-- Booklist, August 2003

One more thing:) Have you heard about Drop In & Decorate? It's a nonprofit organization founded by food writer Lydia Walshin over @ the Perfect Pantry. I learned about Lydia's efforts over @ Culinary Types and I just had to mention it to you cookie bakers out there. Perhaps your extra cookies have found a new home. So, check out Drop In & Decorate! and if you have a raisin recipe you would like to share, drop a link below.

1. The Sun-Maid Girl
2. History of Fresno County, California (1919)
3. The Valley's Legends & Legacies III(By Catherine Morison Rehart @ google books)
4. Raisin Timeline
5. Raisins - Natural Benefits & Curative Properties
1. Raisin Selection & Storage
2. Seasonal Recipes (California Raisin Board)
3. Eggplant and green beans in raisin tamarind curry sauce (@ Vegalicious)
4. Raisin Cinnamon Loaf (@ A Spoonful of Sugar)
5. Bonner Organic Raisin Company (one of the largest independent raisin processors)


  1. Everything sounds so good! I love cooking with raisins. Those meat sauces sound especially good!

  2. I never knew raisens were so versatile!

  3. She really hasn't aged a day, has she? Bravo to the Sun Maid Girl! That raisin sauce for poached fish really sounds quite elegant!

  4. Thanks for gathering up all the information on the Sun-Maid Raisin Girl--I enjoyed reading it. I like raisins for snacking and in cereals and cookies. Haven't ever tried them in a sauce.

  5. Hi Jenn,
    Thanks for dropping in. I may try the meat sauce also. It sounds rather intriguing...

    Hey Duckie, Fuzzy needs some raisins with that peanut butter...

    T.W. Oh what a minor face lift can do. I thought the fish sauce sounded especially intriguing, Hey it's Apicius!

    Kathy, Try them in a simple dessert sauce they add a subtle tang.

  6. Wow the sun-maid girl when she was young! I always like this brand Louise, so many are for sale in our local supermarkets, but the labels already have a picture of the grown-up sun-maid girl.
    Again, thanks so much for the recipes!


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise