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Santa Clarita farmers market: almonds, Princess raisins, citrus and cabbage
The Santa Clarita farmers market offers experienced management, a good mix of quality local growers, and plenty of parking. It took some time after its establishment in 1993 to catch on, but the numbers of shoppers and vendors have steadily increased, and it's really flourishing now.
Dried fruits and nuts are available all year, but now is their time to star. The oddly named Fat Uncle Farms, which just started selling at local markets in April, has extraordinarily tasty almonds from Wasco, northwest of Bakersfield. At Santa Clarita, Chris Siemens and her daughter-in-law Bekki sell standard varieties like Nonpareil and Butte, which were recently harvested, in August and September, and are freshly roasted each week by Nate, Bekki's husband, in a certified kitchen in Santa Barbara. The "blistered" almonds, blanched Nonpareils roasted at 350 degrees and sprinkled with sea salt, are particularly flavorful.
The farm's almond butter, made from unpasteurized raw nuts, and the raw nuts themselves are also very fine, and much appreciated by raw food enthusiasts. After several cases of salmonella were traced to almonds earlier this decade, the Almond Board of California started requiring in 2007 that all almonds sold commercially be pasteurized, but farmers market vendors are exempt as long as they don't sell more than $100 of the nuts to any one customer.
Fat Uncle's owners are Bekki's parents, Alan Townsend, who recently retired as a production technologist for Chevron, working in the local oil fields, and his wife, Julie. Various family members have grown almonds for many years, and the 18-acre farm, which also sells at the Santa Monica Main Street, Ojai and Thousand Oaks markets, is truly a family affair -- Bekki, a grad student in linguistics at UC Santa Barbara, sometimes brings her two daughters, Christabel, 9, and Zaya, 1, to markets. So who's the "fat uncle"? That would be Alan's youngest son, Ryan, who was once so-called by Christabel, but is "not that fat any more," Alan said.
Linda Apkarian and her husband, Brian Raphael, sell large, plump Princess raisins grown in Reedley. The seedless Princess (a.k.a. Melissa) grape has only a mild muscat flavor as a commercial fresh fruit, but when harvested fully ripe and dried for raisins this is much intensified. It's a dream come true for anyone who loves the taste of classic Muscat of Alexandria raisins but does not care to crunch on seeds.
Timber Canyon Ranch displays a spectacular multicolored array of citrus, including satsumas, Bearss limes, Meyer and Eureka lemons, and Caffin clementines. Caffin is an early maturing, highly colored variety that generally has rather mild flavor, but it seems to taste pretty good as grown at this farm, in Santa Paula.
Carlos Cardenas of Santa Maria has excellent red and green cabbage, which are available all year, but are sweetest and most seasonally appropriate in the winter.
Santa Clarita farmers market, College of the Canyons parking lot 8, Valencia Boulevard between Stadium Way (called "West Road" on some maps) and Campus Road, Sundays 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Tip of the week: Dried persimmons from Jim Russell, at the Santa Monica Wednesday market. In addition to the recently declared Mediterranean fruit fly quarantine zone in Santa Monica, which chiefly affects farmers markets and backyard growers (since there aren't any farms in the area), San Diego County has three such districts. Some of these areas are hotbeds of specialty farming, and the restrictions seriously effect shipments of host fruits by commercial growers as well. Russell's organic farm in Fallbrook is in such a recently established zone, and he can't ship several of his crops without spraying regularly; although a spray certified for organic growers does exist, he does not choose to use it.
So what does he do? Russell has basically given up on this season's citrus crop and will let the fruits fall to the ground. He is planning to hold his avocados on the tree until July, when he hopes, if there are no new discoveries of the pest in his area, that the quarantine will end. And he is drying his Fuyu persimmons, which he is bringing to the Santa Monica market every other week, including next Wednesday. The persimmons of his first dried batch are so moist and tender that they might more accurately be described as semi-dried. They need to be refrigerated to avoid developing mold, but they're sweet and delicious, in any case.