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Beverly Hills farmers market: lima beans, pluots, lemon cucumbers

The Beverly Hills farmers market, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary Aug. 2, is one of the best mid-size markets in Southern California and is carefully supervised by its manager, Greta Dunlap.

McGrath Family Farm of Camarillo has started harvesting organic lima beans, which are a real treat, delicate and sweet -- nothing like the pasty frozen kind. They're the Fordhook heirloom variety, discovered in a Santa Barbara County field in 1903, when lima beans were a major crop in the area. McGrath has put in six staggered plantings of a half-acre each, so they should be available through September, conveniently shelled by machine. They're delicious simply steamed for 15 or 20 minutes, dressed with butter or a good olive oil.

Johanna Finley of Santa Ynez sets up a beautiful display of organic vegetables, including round lemon cucumbers, edible peel and all, and Zefa Fino fennel, a Swiss variety that's amazingly tender and sweet, with an intense fragrance of licorice.

By this point in the summer, Hass avocados from hot southern growing districts are often over-mature: They can pass from green to rancid very quickly and have woody roots growing out of the seed. Hass aficionados head for coastal fruit from Ventura County, like the rich, buttery specimens that Frank and Keiko Wells of Westfield Farms bring from Camarillo. Keiko, with a gentle smile and touch, is almost preternaturally gifted at assessing avocado ripeness.

It's hard to believe, but at age 87, Harry Nicholas of Orange Cove stilldrives to market by himself from Orange Cove, in the San Joaquin Valley, always sporting his signature bolo tie. Currently he has Flavor Queen Pluots, a variety with yellow skin and flesh that's super-sweet and juicy, but has been abandoned by commercial growers because it scuffs easily.

Oval and white on the outside, and flecked with green splashes, the Gaya melons grown by Ha's Apple Farm in Tehachapi look like modern art; inside this Japanese-bred variety has firm white flesh with a mild Honeydew flavor.

Luis Diaz and his daughter Rebecca of Rancho Mexico Lindo in Valley Center have started selling new-crop cactus pears, with both red and yellow-orange flesh; the latter are a bit sweeter.

The second, main crop of figs has begun, with fruits typically smaller, drier and sweeter than the first crop. The Pudwill stand has good Black Missions from Nipomo, and Jason Avila of Hanford said he'd probably have figs by Sunday's market; for best flavor, full ripeness, indicated by a slight shriveling around the stem, is critical.

Beverly Hills farmers market, 9300 block of Civic Center Drive, Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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