Food

In Ventura County, stone fruit, flame grapes, bicolor corn and black raspberries

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Under the experienced direction of manager Karen Wetzel Schott, the Thousand Oaks farmers market is one of the two largest and best in Ventura County, along with Ventura Saturday. Vendors and customers are pleased that the market recently returned to its spacious original location in a shopping center parking lot, after two years of exile on a cramped rooftop.

Stone fruit started the season a week behind schedule but has ripened rapidly in the recent heat. Ken Lee of Orosi is bringing purple-skinned Flavor Kings, the best of the Pluots, both sweet and flavorful, three weeks earlier than they normally mature. He also sells at Hollywood and Torrance.

The San Joaquin Valley grape harvest has begun, and Peacock Family Farms of Dinuba is selling sweet, crunchy flames. The stand also offers a dazzling array of squash, eggplant and peppers.

Among local growers, Underwood Family Farms has bicolor corn with real corn flavor, instead of the one-dimensional sweetness of the varieties that prevail at markets these days. Akihiko Kondo of Fast Hydroponics sells fine Japanese cucumbers, tender but crunchy, with a delicate, sprightly flavor.

David Pommer brings fully ripe but pristine Cherokee Purple tomatoes, a thin-skinned heirloom variety that originated in Tennessee a century ago. Kudos to him for setting them out carefully on the table, rather than dumping them into a pile to be pawed through and bruised, as so many vendors do.

Thousands Oaks farmers market, the Oaks shopping center, Wilbur Road and Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thursdays 1:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Tips of the week: Now is the brief season for black raspberries, which belong to a different species from conventional raspberries, and are native to the eastern United States. Alluringly purple-black in color, they're relatively small, round, firm and seedy, with a distinctive sweet taste that drives aficionados wild. Their antioxidant levels are off the charts; but ironically, despite the reputed health benefits of their fruits, black raspberry plants are extremely susceptible to viruses, and they're hard to grow in California, so the berries are rarely seen here. Pudwill Berry Farm sells at many markets but typically offers its more esoteric selections, such as black raspberries, red and pink currants, and wild strawberries, only at the Santa Monica Saturday Organic and Wednesday markets.

Spice Zee nectaplum is a complex hybrid of nectarine, peach and plum with maroon skin, juicy white flesh and a rich blend of the flavors of its parents. The variety was bred by the Zaigers, who also devised pluots, but Fitz Kelly, with his Celtic insouciance, sells it as "Mr. McNulty" at Santa Monica Wednesday.

Weiser Family Farms is selling a most unusual piebald potato with creamy yellow and purple skin and yellow flesh. According to Alex Weiser, it's an unnamed experimental variety; he may grow more next year if customers like it.

Recently opened: Moorpark farmers market, Moorpark College parking lot G, off Campus Road, Saturdays, 8 a.m. to noon.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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