Fresh, local strawberries are the fruit featured in this week's harvest, large and "picture-perfect," as described by Diane Lee of Rancho Arnaz in Ojai. They are available at stands all over the county and at the Ventura Farmers' Market on Wednesday and Saturday. But there is no great hurry, since strawberries are in season until mid-autumn.
Area fruit-lovers should also remember that tangelos will be out of season in a few weeks so they had better get them while they last. Citrus fiends will be impressed with the local tangerine/grapefruit hybrid. "It's a wonderful juice fruit, easily peeled with almost no seeds," said Jeanne Warren, co-owner of Tangelo Rancho, in Piru.
And in spite of the mid-February frost that hit the avocado crop, avocado-eaters will be happy to know that prices of the local crop will "remain stable," said Lyle Carson, owner of Carson Farm Supply in Ojai. But bacon avocados, which are more frost-resistant than the Hass variety, are at the end of their harvest and are now in decline.
A "beautiful selection of mixed lettuce" can also be found locally this week, said James Barker, produce stand manager of Underwood Ranch in Somis.
Green and red romaine are among the 11 different lettuces available, along with more unusual varieties, including red butter, red royal oak and Hawaiian Manoa. The red royal oak in particular, Barker said, "looks just superb."
Radishes are another local vegetable that has come into its own, Barker said. He recommended the long red Italian radish to serve as hors d'oeuvres. The Easter Egg variety, which comes in colors ranging from white to purple, also makes an excellent appetizer.
Food-enthusiasts seeking non-local fare should be on the lookout for artichokes from Castroville in Northern California.
"They had the big freeze three weeks ago and that stunned them," said Henry Flores, manager of Noren's Market in Ventura. Right now they are a bit expensive, but he predicts they will soon come down in price.
Also imported this week to Ventura County is a 4-year-old white Cheddar cheese from Northern California, according to John Kuhlmann, manager of Trader Joe's in Ventura. "Very sharp," he added.
Seafood lovers may want to look for good buys on fresh Dungeness crabs, says Bob Nazarian of Gelson's in Westlake Village.
Dungeness crabs can be found from Alaska to California, and depending on weather and availability, fresh crab season seems to come and go, Nazarian said.
Just when you think they are gone, they can show up again in local stores. "With air freight nowadays," he said, "we can get almost anything really fresh."
Nazarian also recommends locally caught red snapper and suggests preparing it Mexican style, steaming it with salsa and serving it with flour tortillas and Mexican rice. "It's real quick and easy," he said. "About 10 minutes."
LOCALLY GROWN Brandon King Seafood-Santa Barbara spot prawns, Dungeness crab from Alaska and Oxnard spiny lobsters, all live. 3290 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard. Cal-Pacifica Seafood-Local fresh halibut, ice-packed Santa Barbara spot prawns. 36 Franklin Lane, Ventura. Carson Farm Supply-Avocados and naval oranges. 111 Topa Topa Raod, Ojai. Central Market-Artichokes and oranges. 505 Wood Road, Camarillo. Rancho Arnaz-Pesticide-free strawberries and fresh-squeezed apple cider from apples picked in the fall and kept in cold storage. 95 North Ventura Ave., Ventura. Queen Ranch-Local, Commercially grown strawberries and mushrooms as well as home-grown carrots, cauliflower, cabbage and beets. 3400 Los Angeles Ave., Somis Underwood Ranch-Lettuce, radishes and baby vegetables. 5696 Los Angeles Ave., Somis. Somis Farm-Oxnard asparagus and broccoli. 2766 Somis Road, Somis.