Food

At Playa Vista: Fuji apples, Fuyu-type persimmons, minutina mini-greens

Lifestyle and LeisureMark AndersonDining and DrinkingCooking

Playa Vista is not far from several established farmers markets, but a nearby market is a coveted amenity, and residents of this new neighborhood were delighted when their own venue opened in June. Since it's hard to see from nearby main streets, it draws mostly local customers, and perhaps as a result, vendors say that business has been just so-so. The market is modest in size, with 28 stands, half produce, half prepared foods, but the manager, Mark Anderson -- a co-owner of Lark Farms, which grows vegetables in Fillmore -- has assembled a well-chosen roster of respected farms.

Pale Fuji apples grown in the San Joaquin Valley started appearing in markets a few weeks ago, but the best California specimens are mountain-grown, like the ones from Ha’s Apple Farm of Tehachapi, which started selling its new crop last week. Fuji, a cross of Red Delicious and Ralls Janet introduced in Japan in 1962, is high in sugar and low in acidity, so it tastes super-sweet; it's dense and doesn't generate much ethylene, so it's very crunchy and stores like a rock. Ha's Fujis will get even sweeter as the harvest continues over the next several weeks. The last-picked fruits often are so ripe that they develop firm, translucent patches of flesh, a syndrome known as "water-core" in the produce trade. Commercial marketers in the United States usually scorn these fruits as blemished, but real Fuji aficionados know that they're the sweetest.

Fuyu-type persimmons, the tomato-shaped kind that are eaten firm, have also been around for a month, but are just starting to get good now. Until recently the weather was mostly warm, and Fuyus really need cool nights to develop deep orange color and high sugar. Mark Boujikian of Raisin City (near Fresno) offers large, bright orange Fuyus at Playa Vista and many other markets. His fruits, like most of the ones sold as "Fuyu" in the United States, are actually Jiro, another Japanese variety, less highly esteemed in its native land, which can be distinguished by its blocky shape and crosshatched lines on the blossom end, opposite the stem. Whatever the name, Fuyus will be at their best for the next month, getting sweeter and sweeter until birds and rains end the season.

Alison Peitso of Maggie's Farm, from Agoura Hills, sells minutina, a tender mini-green that looks like lawn clippings but has a distinguished pedigree. Native to the Marche region of Italy, where it is used in a traditional salad mix called misticanze, it has a mild, minerally flavor and slightly succulent, crunchy texture. Rarely found here, it's known botanically as Plantago coronopus, and also as buckshorn plantain or erba stella. Nicholas Culpeper, a 17th century English herbalist, recommended it "against venomous bites, especially those of a mad dog."

Playa Vista farmers market, Seabluff Drive between Pacific Promenade and Discovery Creek, Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tip of the week: No one ever really filled the void after Doug Richardson's famous Seaside Banana Gardens succumbed to a mudslide more than a decade ago, but some of his plants were dispersed to other local growers. This is the season when Friend's Ranch of Ojai sometimes brings Ice Cream bananas to the Santa Monica Wednesday market. Unripe, the variety's blue-green skin sports a silvery bloom similar to the coating on unwashed plums. Ripe, the fruit turns pale yellow, with lusciously creamy, snowy white pulp, which tastes exceptionally sweet and has just enough acidity to add interest.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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