Good this week: Brooks cherries, Pakistan mulberries, Apriums

The earliest varieties of any fruit are rarely the best, and it's easy to get impatient this year, when stone fruit harvests are running a week late. Discrimination in varieties is crucial.

Currently the firmest, tastiest cherries are Brooks, a 20-year-old hybrid of Burlat and Rainier that approaches Bing in quality when fully ripe. Unlike Bing, Brooks grows well in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and Erickson Farms of Fresno is bringing good ones to Torrance, Long Beach and Santa Monica farmers markets. It's also worth looking for Black Tartarian, a small, purplish-black variety with distinctive blackberry-like flavor, which J.P. Barbagelata of Linden will sell at Santa Monica on Wednesday; he may have Bings by next week.

It's prime season for Pakistan mulberries, which are almost preposterously elongated and have a rich, fruity flavor when dark-ripe. They're firmer, but not intensely vinous like their better-known cousins, Persian mulberries, which ripen in summer. White mulberries, of the same species as Pakistan, and also available now, are sweet but bland. Mud Creek Ranch of Santa Paula has both whites and Pakistans at Santa Monica on Wednesday and Hollywood on Sunday.

Apriums, hybrids of apricot and plum that resemble apricots, can be more juicy and aromatic than most early apricot varieties, but seem to pass from sour to mealy with only a brief interval of ideal ripeness. Sniff, feel (gently) and sample (if possible) before buying.

Galante strawberries, with a floral aroma and juicy flesh, have proved too delicate for commercial growers, but Jerry Rutiz brings them to Santa Monica on Wednesday. Chefs love them, but as for other strawberries in Southern California, they vary in quality depending on horticultural cycles that are inscrutable to shoppers, so again, sniff and sample is the wisest strategy.

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