The Beverly Glen farmers market, which had a soft opening last Saturday at the Glen Centre shopping mall just south of Mulholland Drive, revives an event that debuted 11 years ago. That version folded due to a lack of parking, but the reincarnation offers a new lot and free valet service. The sponsor remains Raw Inspiration a nonprofit that has in the interim grown from 5 to 21 farmers markets in the Los Angeles area, run through an operating affiliate, California Certified Farmers Markets. The Beverly Glen market has 40 stands, 16 of them farmers, with a mix of large and small growers, including veterans and novices.
One welcome newcomer is Teddy Bliss, 27, who just started selling at farmers markets last year, although his family has grown avocados for decades in Carpinteria and has 120 acres of the trees. Because of the farm's cool coastal location, the fruit is at peak quality now, with high oil content, fresh, clean flavor, and smooth, firm texture. By contrast, after the recent heat, avocados from inland and southern districts are likely to be over-mature, with dark-streaked, mushy, rancid flesh. Bliss also sells his fruit, which is certified organic, at farmers markets in Altadena, Calabasas and Westlake Village; his goal is to expand to about 10 venues, he said.
The consolidation of retail chains, and resultant shrinking margins for growers, has impelled even large stone fruit producers to search for alternative distribution channels; meanwhile, as farmers markets have multiplied, the operators need supply. This convergence was apparent at Beverly Glen, where Ron Fena, co-owner of R&D Farms, which cultivates 1,500 acres of stone fruit in Reedley, offered commercial varieties of peaches and nectarines, evenly sized and standard packed, although without stickers. Some were riper than store grade, and all were first-grade fruit, not culls. Overall, they were equal or better than store quality, but less fine than fruit from a smaller farmers market specialist like Tenerelli or Honey Crisp. R&D is also at Calabasas, Glendale (Gigi), Brentwood and Melrose Place.
A ubiquitous, highly professional presence at farmers markets, Arnett Farms of Fresno, offered half a dozen Pluots, and Hosui Asian pears, the best brown-skinned variety, sweet, juicy and tender, but crisp. Asian pears — often the long-storing Shinko variety — are available from certain farmers market vendors about 10 months of the year, but they are best soon after harvest, in late summer and early fall, when they are freshest, and the cool crunch of a refrigerated pear provides welcome relief from the heat.
A real small grower, Ruben Mkrtchyan, brought intensely sweet and aromatic Uzbek melons, including the Assati, Obinovot and Mirza varieties, from Onyx in the remote high desert. Arguably the best of the lot, Mirza is actually a marketing name for a selection of a variety named Ak-Uruk, which means "white apricot"; this seems appropriate, since its flesh is creamy white, and many white apricots have a melony flavor. ("Mirza" is a word of Persian origin, meaning a high nobleman or prince; also, Mirza Chul is a steppe region in Uzbekistan.) Sales were slow on opening day, and if they don't pick up it may not be worth his while to continue at the market, Mkrtchyan reported. He's also at Calabasas, Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Melrose Place, and Santa Monica Wednesday.
Beverly Glen (Glen Centre) farmers market, Beverly Glen Boulevard and Beverly Glen Circle, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Part of the thrill of shopping at the Santa Monica Wednesday market is discovering produce that is rare, novel or available at local farmers markets for the first time. Last Wednesday Bill Coleman of Carpinteria displayed small, pale green, prickly fruit called West Indian gherkins, also known as burr cucumbers. Usually eaten raw, added to soups and stews, or made into pickles, they're from a different species than regular gherkins, Cucumis anguria, native to Africa, and commonly grown in Brazil.
That seemed pretty special, but then Coleman whipped out a handful of tiny, mottled green fruit that looked like watermelons shrunk to fingernail size. Crunchy, with a lemony, cucumber-like flavor, they're called by an array of names, including "mouse watermelons," sandias de raton and Mexican sour gherkins. Although they're in the same botanical family as cucumbers and watermelons, they're in a different genus and species, Melothria scabra, native to
Around the corner, Alex Weiser set out his first harvest of piquillos, the deep red, conical peppers prized in Northern Spain for roasting and stuffing. He recently started roasting these and other varieties, including shishitos, padrons, and Anaheims, right at the market in a tumbler over a propane flame, for sale in a plastic cup for snacking, or a plastic bag to bring home.
Most surprising are the Yellow Stuffer tomatoes grown by Maggie's Farm in Agoura Hills, which are hollow inside, and deeply lobed, with firm, crunchy walls, giving them the appearance of a yellow bell pepper, although they taste like tomatoes. Nate Peitso, the farm's manager, says he put in just five plants as an experiment, but they've been quite popular, and he intends to grow more next year.
It doesn't have to be rare to be special: There's a range of exciting fruit fresh this week, including firm yellow Barhi dates from DaVall and Bautista; the first, lusciously soft Medjools from DaVall; ripe Keitt mangoes from Wong; small but very sweet and flavorful Seckel pears from Cirone; and highly aromatic Indian blood peaches from Rieger.
When grown by Tenerelli Orchards in the high desert, a standard commercial peach variety, Summer Lady, reaches perfection, with deep orange flesh streaked with red, and intense flavor. Tenerelli markets the variety, a limb mutation of O'Henry discovered in 1982, under the name "Sangre de Toro"; it is available this week at Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Mar Vista.