The Culver City farmers market has been one of the best weekday markets on the Westside since its establishment in 1995. It has 30 farmers, enough to offer a good selection, and about 35 food and craft vendors clustered on the southern and eastern sides. The market has flourished along with the stores and restaurants in the downtown area, and has a casual, friendly ambience, busy but not frenetic.
Genuinely small, local and certified organic, Finley Farms ranks among the top farmers market vegetable growers, with super-fresh, beautiful, great-tasting produce, sold by a real farmer, Brandon Finley. He still has warm-season crops such as heirloom tomatoes, eggplant and splendid yellow zucchini, but it's been getting down into the low 40s on recent nights at his fields in Santa Ynez, and he's starting to bring cool-weather specialties like parsnips, celery root and chard.
The market is lucky to have one of the best local apple growers, Cuyama Orchards, which farms in a pristine, isolated valley at 3,000 feet, giving the fruit extra color and snap. Currently they have Fujis, Galas and Grannys, but their real specialty, Pink Ladys, will be here in about two weeks.
In addition to these standard varieties, next Tuesday Cuyama will offer its first picking of two rare, odd-looking heirlooms. Kandil Sinap, which originated in Turkey or the Crimea in the early 1800s, is bizarrely elongated and conical, with creamy yellow skin, a red blush and crisp, juicy, rich-flavored flesh. The vendor, Philip Santiago, says he should also have Calville Blanc d'Hiver, the classic dessert apple of France dating from the 16th century. Large and flattish, with pale green skin and prominent ribs, it has a distinctive, effervescent, citrusy flavor, which improves in storage. The trees are young and bearing their first crop, so the quality should also improve in following years.
A lot of farmers market stands offer Persian cucumbers these days, but no one grows them better than Lark Farms, which farms hydroponically in Fillmore. The indoor environment is an advantage for cucumbers because temperature, humidity and nutrition can be carefully controlled, and the fruits are less likely to be scarred and desiccated. Lark grows a superior variety, Minar, and most important, always harvests when the cucumbers are small and slender. Bringing these factors together, the fruits are firm, crunchy, not at all watery, and mildly sweet and flavorful — the ideal Persian cucumber.
Living Lettuce Farms of Reseda is one of the best farmers market vendors of salad greens, because they're small, very local and pay meticulous attention to quality. The leaves of spinach, arugula and kale, or in the mesclun and spicy mixes, are immaculately fresh, young and tender, and at the most desirable texture: dry enough so they don't rot, but moister than at some of the more commercial producers, who primarily distribute to stores and restaurants. They do a particularly fine job with their frisee, which is light green and golden yellow, crunchy and sweet-bitter, and with radicchio, which has tight, medium to large heads, with tender leaves, pleasingly bitter, with a tinge of sweetness.
As at many farmers markets, Arnett Farms of Fresno is by far the largest fruit vendor, with its signature displays of overflowing baskets. Currently they're showcasing Fuyu persimmons, which will be at peak, fully colored, crisp and sweet, for the next month or two. The farm started bringing satsuma mandarins last weekend, but they're still mottled with green and a little tart for most palates. San Joaquin Valley satsumas should be approaching peak quality in another two weeks. They never get quite as sweet as later mandarin varieties, but are prized because they're early in season, very easy to peel and seedless, with tender flesh; when fully ripe and well grown they have a good balance of sweetness and acidity, and a delicate, distinctive aroma.
Culver City farmers market, Main Street between Culver and Venice Boulevards, Tuesday, 3 to 7 p.m.