About La Bonita California
The story of our company is the story of our family. It is the story of my parents’ love for each other and their love for us. It is the story of my family’s love of good food prepared by a wonderful cook who happened to be our mother. It is a very small story, of the sensual taste, of a very big and delicious state.
While La Bonita California is a perfect name for gourmet foods made from the agricultural bounty of California, it really is my name. My father’s generation fell in love with the movie star, Bonita Granville, who just happened to star as Nancy Drew. My dad gave me the name, but his most important gift was a love of place.
My parents, Alfred and Frances, were married on November 8th, 1941. On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war. My parents’ dreams, and those of many others, were placed on hold.
My father, now a Marine, was stationed in California waiting for his deployment. My mother left Michigan and joined him. They were stationed in several places, including Santa Barbara and San Diego.
My father told my mother that after the war he wanted to live in California. He told my mother then, and my sister and I many times, “I wanted to live in a place where I could wake up every morning and eat an orange.” Mother, of course, loved the climate. When my father joined the war in the Pacific, she went back to Michigan to wait for his return.
Mom’s family had a farm in Smith Creek, Michigan. There is a picture of their farm above. My mother never liked working in the fields so she took over the job of cooking from the age of 12. She would cook meals for her 8 siblings, their beaus or spouses, her parents, two to four farm hands and anyone else who might stop by. During the Depression no one was ever turned away from the table. We joke that my mom only knows how to cook for an army. I remember one year my mother made 24 apple pies for Thanksgiving. She was worried there wouldn’t be enough. (Mom corrected me on this item—she insists it was only 12 apple pies. The other 12 were pumpkin!)
Dad was as good as his word and when the war in the Pacific ended, Dad went to get his bride. He took her, her mother, father and sister, our Aunt Margie, to California. Dad had gone alone to California, found work, and found his paradise.
My parents first moved to Los Angeles. They thought it was too busy and expensive a place to start a family. My father heard there was work in a place called Riverside. He quickly found a job as a busboy at the Mission Inn (while he waited for his application to be accepted by the phone company, where he would work for the next 40 years). In later years, when dining at the Mission Inn’s fabulous restaurants for our family celebrations, Dad would tell the servers about working there in the 40’s. And if Dad didn’t mention it, one of his proud daughters would. When Al and Fran first settled there, Riverside and the surrounding area was mile after mile of citrus and fruit trees, vineyards, and strawberry fields. It was an entire valley dedicated to agriculture. My parents next moved to Colton, then to Rialto. That’s when my sister and I become part of the story.
My sister, Andrea, and I grew up in Rialto. This area of California is called the Inland Empire. It was an empire whose king was citrus. We were in the midst of thousands of acres of citrus groves. I remember in the evening our house would be full of the scent of citrus blossoms. We went to the strawberry fields for strawberries. Every week we would buy a flat. We drove to the dairy, turned our eight empty glass bottles in for eight full bottles of milk. Next, we would drive to the chicken ranch and buy our eggs for the week. There were packing houses in nearly every town nearby. We knew where everything we ate came from. We knew the people who grew it. They were the parents of our schoolmates.
But it wasn’t just the food, it was my mother’s cooking that brought the food to life. There was a giant apricot tree outside my bedroom window. I would wake up and see Mom picking those beautiful summer fruits. My mother would make gallons of apricot preserves every summer. She had learned to make them from her grandmother when she was nine. My mother thought that these Blenheim apricots made the best preserves she had ever tasted. Once again we were intoxicated by the scent of the cooking fruit.
My sister and I grew up thinking that everyone ate the way we did. We thought all our friends had mothers who could cook from scratch without a recipe. Our friends used to beg us to have them stay for dinner. And we never had to ask if we could have friends come over to eat, we knew there would always be plenty—simple food, comfort food, old family recipes, made and happily shared. Friends and neighbors would call on my mother to cook for weddings, funerals, and other life events.
My mother taught Andrea and I how to cook. We just watched what she did and imitated. My mouth waters just thinking of her fried chicken, pies and cookies, and of course her traditional apricot rolls made with those carefully canned apricot preserves. The house was once again filled with the fragrance of yeasty warm bread and apricots.
The seeds of our company start with this tumble of memories.
I was off trying to invent a new recipe. I couldn’t find pine nuts anywhere. I knew that pine nuts are indigenous to California so I never imagined how difficult they would be to find. I looked everywhere, in every grocery store, little markets, Olvera Street in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, every ethnic market I could find. No pine nuts. On the internet I could only find pine nuts from out of state or country.
I finally found them. It was a little package, ¾ of a cup. They were $12.99 and they were from CHINA.
I choked. I whimpered, I raged, I called my sister. How could I be living in the agricultural paradise of California and be buying pine nuts from a country thousands of miles away? And I must admit, a country whose food safety standards were so often questionable. Something was terrible wrong!
It was my epiphany. Andrea and I talked and the memories of the place we grew up in flooded up. We realized that they were just memories. Another generation was living and growing up in an entirely different place than we had. The groves that surrounded our house were gone, replaced by warehouses. These warehouses now sit on top of some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world. They are full of things from China and other places. They are even full of food from China instead of food from the land they were sitting on.
We determined to start a company. Our mission was to share with everyone the beautiful taste of our state. We had used our mother’s recipes for years. Now it was our plan to support our California growers and to awaken the next generation to the tastes of California with our recipes.
Our California-grown mission means we only use fruits and vegetables grown in California. The only time we will use a product from outside of California is if it doesn’t grow here. We will only use a product from outside of the United States if it cannot be grown here. Even our jars are made in the USA.
We want to take what was good and wholesome about our past and bring it into the future. We want families to taste the flavors that we tasted and loved as children. These are the flavors of our home, of our state and of this place. This is California Regional Cooking.
From the warmth of our kitchen to yours,
Frances, Andrea, Bonita, and in loving memory of Alfred.