Favored by a pleasant location at the Alamitos Bay Marina and by its proximity to several affluent areas, the Long Beach Southeast farmers market has grown steadily since its founding in 1997. It's now the largest farmers market in the Long Beach area, and one of the best mid-size markets in Southern California.
Much of the credit belongs to the manager, Dale Whitney, whom the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors honored last month as the outstanding farmers market manager of the year. He has been involved with Long Beach markets since 1980, and his devotion to market integrity is clear: He estimates that he has visited 90% of his venue's farms, some as far away as Stockton. The market also has an exceptionally informative, user-friendly website, with a complete list of vendors and what they sell, a map of the market's layout and lots of photos.
In May the board that runs this and the four other Harbor Area farmers markets banned the use of white plastic bags, part of a growing trend at local farmers markets. Vendors now provide paper bags, and a market stand sells $3 totes made from recycled plastic bottles. "It's much more environmentally sound, particularly at this location, where the plastic bags got blown into the water," Whitney said. "It was bad for the birds, and the bags would get caught in boat propellers."
These days Tess Gonzaga, who farms near Lindsay, brings patola, a Philippine luffa gourd that looks like a ridged zucchini, with a mild flavor that also hints at cucumber. They're tender and fresh, which is crucial, since this vegetable is quite perishable. She also has fresh peanuts, moist and crunchy like water chestnuts.
Bih Shan of Loma Linda sells pristine shiitake, oyster and wood ear mushrooms, as well as wild bitter melon, which looks like a cross between a stegosaurus and something out of the movie "Alien": The skin, which has hornlike bumps, turns from green to flaming orange when fully mature. The flavor, bitter but sweet, is quite addictive, and bitter melon is attracting increasing attention for its reputed medicinal properties.
MB Farms of Raisin City, Calif., has Thomcord grapes, which combine the seedlessness of Thompson and the blue-black skin and intense, foxy flavor of Concord. Originating from a cross made in 1983 by David Ramming and Ron Tarailo of the USDA in Parlier, Calif., the variety was released in 2003 and has become increasingly popular at farmers markets. (Harry Nicholas is another grower who carries it, at Santa Monica Wednesday and Beverly Hills Sunday markets).
Jim Van Foeken of Ivanhoe has Tsu Li and Yali Asian pears, which are striking in having the pyramidal shape of European pears along with the juiciness, crunch and mild, sweet flavor of Asian pears. Tsu Li has distinctive spots, and Yali has an elongated stem, which gives rise to its name, meaning "duckbill pear." Unlike most other Asian pears available here, which were selected in Japan, Tsu Li and Yali originated in China and until recently were considered to be of a different species. The quality of both Tsu Li and Yali is decent, but their strong suit is long storage, and so at this time, during the harvest season, many shoppers may prefer the classic round yellow-skinned Japanese pears, Nijisseki (20th century) and Shinseiki, or the very sweet brown-skinned Hosui.
Modern visitors to the Pearblossom Highway, in the high desert, might wonder where the name came from, so few are the namesake pear trees in the area today. But in the early 20th century pears were a big deal there, with about 2,000 acres of Bartletts in Pearblossom, Littlerock and eastern Palmdale (also known as Pearland). Disease, high winds and lack of water in some areas, and competition with larger plantings in Northern California caused high desert pear cultivation to fade away in the 1970s and 1980s. But Tenerelli Farms still has a few trees and also brings some of the superbly aromatic fruit from the nearby George Bones Ranch, one of the pioneers of local pear growing.
Long Beach Southeast farmers market, parking lot of Alamitos Bay Marina, 6584 E. Marina Drive (0.2 miles south of 2nd Street), Long Beach, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays
Tip of the week: Seckel pears, the smallest, sweetest and most flavorful European-type pears, originated in Pennsylvania in the late 18th century. Grown by Michael Cirone (See Canyon) of San Luis Obispo, at the Santa Monica markets on Wednesday and Saturday (organic).Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times