Food

Farmers Markets: Persimmons come calling early at Tuesday Torrance

Because of its size and the diversity of its offerings, Tuesday Torrance is arguably the best weekday farmers market after Santa Monica. Founded by the city in 1985, its sales are only half those of the busier Saturday market in the same location at Charles H. Wilson Park, but it has almost as many farmers. Parking is easier on Tuesdays, and a higher proportion of customers come to shop for produce, not just to hang out after visiting the park, say vendors.

There were some real finds on a recent visit.

Usually persimmons aren't worth buying until November, when they lose their green tinge and the slight but unpleasant astringency that comes with it. This year, hot summer days and recent cool nights have ripened persimmons two weeks early, although one must still carefully select the brightest orange, sweetest fruits. Some farmers report that the fruits are not remaining firm as long as they normally would, so the harvest may be over sooner than usual. So far Joe Bonilla, Arnett and Ranajit Sahu have some of the best Fuyus, the tomato-shaped fruits eaten firm, at the Tuesday market; Rancho Santa Cecilia has good Hachiyas, the acorn-shaped variety eaten soft.

The market abounds in Asian farmers, particularly Japanese. Stephen Fukumoto of Sunrise Ranch sells flavorful pink cherry and Momotaro tomatoes from Oxnard. Dan Hashiba of Anaheim Hills offers loofah gourds, both young specimens for cooking, and mature dried fruit for use as a scrubbing sponge.

Watercress isn't common at farmers markets because it isn't easy to grow in arid Southern California, but Kanji Yasutomi of Pico Rivera manages to offer upland cress, a slightly spicier version, by raising it hydroponically.

Vang Thao of Fresno always sets out a breathtaking display of exotic crops such as gorgeous fresh ginger, six kinds of basil, Asian bunching shallots, and taro leaves and stems. Anna's Farm has 8-foot-long sugar cane from Santa Paula.

Winesap apples are emblematic of fall in the Middle Atlantic states, but need colder winters than most locations in Southern California can provide. Ha's Apples brings excellent specimens grown at 5,000 feet in Tehachapi, sweet-tart, crisp and aromatic, with a vinous flavor. Ha is famous for his Fujis, although the ones he has sold the past few weeks have been an early strain that is redder, but not so sweet or firm as the original strain; but a few windfalls of the real Fuji are starting to show up, and the full harvest should be on in a week or two.

The market is in a bit of transition as its veteran, much beloved manager Mary Lou Weiss died in June, and Joyce Chan, 48, has stepped into her giant shoes. "I feel her presence in the office," Chan says.

She says that the Asian community and small-town atmosphere of Torrance remind her of what Silver Lake was like when she was growing up there. Chan earned a degree in psychology from Cal State Northridge, worked for an industrial psychological firm, and for the last eight years served as the market manager in Atwater Village, with expertise in bookkeeping and grant writing.

Despite the market's overall quality, about a quarter of the farmers have been caught by agricultural authorities or other managers selling peddled produce as their own, and others have a commercial look to their stands and produce that arouses suspicion. Even as her health was declining, Weiss pursued suspect vendors, conducting farm inspections and working with agricultural authorities to catch cheaters; but proving cheating is difficult, and even some egregious offenders eluded her. Chan says that after she has gotten firm bearings she will start visiting farms.

Torrance farmers market, Charles H. Wilson Park, 2200 Crenshaw Blvd. (between Sepulveda Boulevard and Carson Street), Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Farmers markets now abound in pumpkins and squash, including gorgeous heirloom varieties that look like edible art. At the Hollywood and Santa Monica Wednesday markets, Windrose Farm of Paso Robles mounts a special display that includes Long Island Cheese pumpkins, a traditional favorite for making pies that is flattened and very ribbed, with smooth buff skin and moderately sweet orange flesh; and Thelma Sanders Sweet Potato squash, like a white acorn, with a creamy texture and chestnut flavor.

At Hollywood and Torrance Saturday, Elser's Country Farm of Yucaipa has a great array of unusual pumpkins, including bright golden yellow Owl's Eye, a modern hybrid; Winter Luxury, an heirloom from 1893 with white netting and very sweet and smooth flesh, perfect for making pies; Black Futsu, a rare Japanese variety with a heavily ribbed, warty, chestnut-colored skin, and golden flesh with a hazelnut flavor; and Kakai Hulless, another Japanese pumpkin, with orange and green striped rind, and hull-less, edible seeds.

Tips of the week: GoldRush apples, very firm and crunchy, with an intense sweet-tart flavor and fruity-floral Golden Delicious aroma, from Michael Cirone of San Luis Obispo, at Santa Monica Wednesday.

Freshly harvested "natural" Deglet Noor dates, moist and semi-translucent, are far less common but more delicate and delicious than commercial Deglets, which are usually dried for ease of processing, and then rehydrated. Bautista Family Date Ranch of Mecca will have them at Long Beach Southeast, Beverly Hills, Torrance Saturday and Santa Monica Wednesday.

food@latimes.com

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