At the farmers market

Baba raspberries grown by Chuy Berry Farms in Arroyo Grande, at the Sherman Oaks farmers market. (David Karp / April 16, 2011)

Spring always brings a new crop of farmers markets, as operators time openings to capitalize on the seasonal abundance and diversity of produce. Two new venues, in Sherman Oaks and Temple City, offer good selections of vendors under capable managers. They're not as large as longer-established markets, of course, but should flourish and grow if supported by their communities.

The Sherman Oaks venue is sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and managed by Carole Gallegos, who, until a month ago, directed the successful Studio City farmers market. Gallegos was generally popular there with farmers, many of whom are represented at the new Sherman Oaks venue.

"I'm loyal to a market manager. If they give their hand out to me I give my hand back," says Dirk Hermann of LA Funghi.

Hermann has just started to bring in the first morels of the season, foraged from Northern California forests and sent by overnight delivery. With an intense, smoky flavor, they're one of the best of the true wild mushrooms and emblematic of spring. The season is just beginning, and Hermann's morels are not cheap, at $3 an ounce, but prices should come down as supplies increase in the next few weeks, he said.

Hermann grew up hunting wild mushrooms in the Bavarian Alps. He developed his taste for them as a chef for hotels and private clients here and in Asia before starting up his business as a mushroom purveyor at local farmers markets two years ago. In addition to Sherman Oaks, he sells at the Studio City, Hollywood, Brentwood, West Hollywood and South Pasadena markets.

Cliff McFarlin of Orosi, a partner in Etheridge Farms, has Tango mandarin, a new variety that has been planted on thousands of acres in California and is showing up at farmers markets this year for the first time. It's a dependably seedless version of the familiar W. Murcott Afourer, a mandarin of Moroccan origin.

W. Murcott is typically marketed at farmers markets as Murcott (although it's different from the Florida variety of that name), and at supermarkets under brand names such as Cutie or Delite. W. Murcott is a gorgeous, highly productive variety with very good flavor, and is seedless if grown in isolation. But if planted next to other citrus with viable pollen, such as clementines or Minneola tangelos, W. Murcott bears seedy fruits, which bring lower prices to growers.

To fix this problem, Mikeal Roose and Tim Williams of the University of California at Riverside irradiated W. Murcott budwood sticks (stems used for grafting) to rearrange the chromosomes to cause sterility. They came up with a mutation they named Tango, which is virtually identical to W. Murcott, except that it averages just one seed in five fruits, even when planted next to seedy citrus. From the consumer's standpoint, Tango looks and tastes the same as a seedless W. Murcott, with deep orange rind and rich flavor. The season began in late January and will finish in a few weeks.

The Sherman Oaks market location, near the confluence of the 101 and 405 freeways, just north of the Galleria shopping center, won't win any beauty prizes, but it's convenient and offers abundant parking.

Sherman Oaks (Galleria) farmers market, Sepulveda Boulevard and Camarillo Street, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday

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The Temple City farmers market, which opened March 13 between City Hall and a pleasant park, is sponsored by the city and run by Gretchen Sterling, veteran manager of the Pasadena markets. The city is about 55% Asian and 35% Hispanic, and Sterling worked to assemble vendors for the new market to strike the right demographic balance. The new venue competes with the established Alhambra market, four miles to the west, which caters to Asian customers and is held at the same time on Sunday morning.

At the Temple City market, customers throng the Vu Fresh Produce stand, where Tou Ly Vu of Fresno sells a wide range of Asian vegetables, including chayote greens, bitter melon greens and Chinese celery. "You can't find them as fresh as this at the supermarket," Vu says.

It's prime season for English peas, and Tamai Farms of Oxnard offers young, sweet specimens, large enough to shell efficiently but not so big they're starchy.

Sydney Spencer of Pauma Valley carries excellent avocados, both Fuerte, which is approaching the end of its season, and Hass, which is at its peak. The season for the current Hass crop began in late November, when the fruit is watery, and can run into the fall, when it can be rancid. But from March into July, Hass from the leading growing area, in northern San Diego County, is of top quality, with full flavor and a buttery texture. Avocados at supermarkets are expensive now, because California overall has a short crop, but Spencer has a good harvest and her prices are reasonable, 75 cents to $1.75 per fruit, depending on size.

Temple City farmers market, Las Tunas Drive between Kauffman and Golden West avenues, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday

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