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Stories from the valley

Our Valley’s connection with a World-famous Food

Contributed by Jim Morris

If you’re a baby boomer like myself, you probably have fond memories of the Dancing California Raisins. Those shriveled superstars were amazing pitchmen for this versatile, healthy snack and ingredient from the Central Valley. (In fact, The California Raisins even won an Emmy and have memorabilia in the Smithsonian Institution!)

The California Raisins are a mere shadow in the presence of William Thompson. This Englishman relocated to the Sacramento Valley in the 1860s.  After receiving three grapevine cuttings from New York, he planted them and just one survived. Fruit from that grapevine was first publically displayed in Marysville in 1875 – and became known as Thompson’s Seedless Grape.

Today the Thompson Seedless is the workhorse in California’s grape industry, accounting for virtually all of the raisins grown in this state. California grows all of the raisins in the U.S., all done within 60 miles of Fresno. The annual raisin crop weighs in at about 350,000 tons!  Now you know that the roots of this sweet treat got their start much farther north.

To commemorate the birthplace of the Thompson Seedless, there’s a historical marker along Highway 20, about a 10-minute drive west from Yuba City.