Sun-Maid Raisins & Dried Fruits: Serving American Families & The World Since 1912, by Anna L. Palecek, Gary H. Marshburn, and Barry F. Kriebel
[Note: This book is advertised for free for those who buy Sun-Maid dried fruit products, and can be found at://www.sunmaid.com/book/US_Edition_Complete_Book_bookmarks.pdf]
If you don’t already happen to know, I really like raisins. Among my favorite desserts are such classics as rice pudding with raisins, carrot loaves with raisins, and oatmeal raisin cookies, all of which are recipes in this book. (I also really like pumpkins, but I haven’t read any books relating to pumpkins yet.) As someone who is not only fond of raisins to the point that I regularly buy them for snacking on at work, it was probably only a matter of time before I got around to reading the book that was released by Sun-Maid, the California co-operative that makes and markets the raisins that I eat so frequently, as reading corporate histories is something that I have been known to do from time to time . Given that this book is freely available and obviously a product of corporate advertising, how does it shape up as a book, being slightly less than 200 pages and being transparent about the fact that it exists as a way of promoting and explaining Sun-Maid’s view of its own corporate history? It ends up being a remarkably enjoyable book to read, and clearly designed with some excellence in graphic art, and it happens to be useful and informative as well, if you happen to be a fan of raisins.
The contents of this book are quite complete, far more than one would be led to expect as a merely corporate product. The book is made of six chapters. The first chapter provide the basics on Sun-Maid’s history, including a few timelines to put the corporate history in a chronological perspective, as well as the uses of raisins and other dried fruits, festivals and holidays that use dried fruits, as well as a discussion on serving sizes. The second chapter gives the background story of raisins and dried fruits throughout history, including ancient history, their uses in the old and new world, how they came to California, and stories about irrigation water in the San Juaquin Valley as well as a discussion of the Thompson Seedless grape, the star of the California raisins I eat so much of. The third chapter discusses the corporate history of the Sun-Maid co-operative itself, including the Sun-Maid girl, who was once a raisin ambassador at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, as well as the fondness of painter Norman Rockwell for raisins, which made it into a surprising number of his paintings. Who knew? The fourth chapter of the book looks at the process by which raisins are grown, harvested, dried, processed, packed, and distributed to places like Portland, Oregon and Lakeland, Florida, as well as many countries around the world. The fifth chapter of the book looks at some facts on raisins and other dried fruits like apricots, prunes, figs, dates, peaches, apples, and pears, including the role of raisins as a star of various international food guidelines. The sixth and final chapter contains some amazing recipes for foods that I love, like the aforementioned oatmeal raisin cookies, as well as foods that I would really like to try, such as Dolmas salad, raisin serrano quesadillas, chicken and asparagus with raisin-wine au jus, Moroccan garbanzo beans with raisins, quick chicken curry, and turkey empanadas. Seriously, I’m getting hungry writing this. I hope you’re getting hungry reading this.
There is a lot that makes this book successful, and a work of corporate history worthy of emulation. For one, this book brings the goods, including some excellent history, some tasty recipes, some classy graphic design as well as plenty of paintings from Norman Rockwell, and even a lovely animated version of the Sun-Maid girl. The book pays a great deal of attention to American history, particularly California, and makes sure to promote the use of raisins and other dried fruits in various religious traditions ranging from Roman Catholicism, to Sweden’s St. Lucia’s day, to Diwali and Ramadan, even to Jewish dishes. This is a book that knows that a large portion of its audience appreciates foods from around the world and that dried fruits are an important part of many religious festivals, making the sensitive approach taken by the people responsible for writing this book a winner. This is a book that not only wants to sell raisins, but to sell them as a healthy and culturally important food, and to sell Sun-Maid as a worthwhile company in providing a worthwhile product that is healthy and sustainable. Mission accomplished. Other companies would do wise to study this book, take some notes, and emulate what makes it work so well, if they can.
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