Season's Fresh Offerings: Artichokes, Beets, Halibut

Webster's Dictionary calls it "a thistle-like plant of the composite family," but food enthusiasts view the artichoke as a tasty vegetable, convenient for stuffing and easy to prepare.

"There are two basic types of artichokes," said Tom Dullam, owner of Dullam Floral and Nursery in Oxnard. "A Magnifico, which is a European variety; it's long and has thorns. The other type is a green globe; more round on top and some are thornless."

Dullam said the thornless green globes they are selling have a milder taste and a larger percentage of heart than does the normal green globe.

"We grow them in tissue culture and then we plant them in a small plot in the field," he added.

The reason that farmers don't grow them in the warmer climates, Dullam said, "is that most artichokes are infected with certain types of organisms. When the weather warms up, they plug up the vascular system of the plant, so you don't get more than one crop off of a plant."

Imported from Castroville, "the artichoke capital of the world," are globe artichokes, said Henry Flores, manager of Noren's Market in Ventura.

"They haven't gone down in price, but they're excellent, really beautiful, really clean," he said.

Locally, the outlook this week is very good for vegetables, especially beets, said James Barker, produce stand manager of Underwood Ranch in Somis. "We've got a range of beets--red, gold and candy-striped. People are starting to realize that the gold and candy-striped actually taste better than the red," he said. "They have a sweeter flavor."

Barker, who describes the candy-stripes as pink "with white flesh and red rings inside," recommends steaming the beets with a little vinegar added, to help keep their color.

Kiwi is approaching the end of its season, but it is still available, as are navel oranges, said Karen Collins, manager of the Ventura Farmers' Market.

"We still have some navel oranges just hanging on," she said. "The season was technically over a few weeks ago, but because of the cold weather we have an extended growing season this year."

Finlandia Swiss cheese is an interesting item featured this week, said Alan Parrington, assistant store director of the Mrs. Gooch's store in Thousand Oaks. Imported from Finland, the cheese is "mild, with a nutty flavor."

Locally, seafood lovers should think halibut, said Sharla Nelson, co-owner of Cal Pacifica Seafood in Ventura. "We're still in halibut season. When they fish off the Channel Islands they get larger fish," she said.

Incidental catch includes spider crabs and shark, Nelson said.


* Bennett's Honey Farms--Four varieties of honey. 3678 Piru Canyon Road, Piru.

* Brandon King Seafood--Local spot prawns caught from Port Hueneme, Dungeness crab from Alaska and Oxnard spiny lobsters, all live. 3920 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard.

* Cal Pacifica--Local fresh halibut, Santa Barbara spot prawns and several varieties of shark. 36 Franklin Lane, Ventura.

* Carson Farm Supply--Navel oranges and avocados. 111 Topa Topa Road, Ojai.

* Central Market--Green cabbage, cauliflower, navel oranges and strawberries. 505 Wood Road, Camarillo.

* Friend's Ranches--Tangerines, tangelos, lemons, navel oranges and avocados. 15150 Maricopa Highway, Ojai.

* Queen Ranch--Cauliflower, beets, carrots, onions, lettuce, mushrooms, strawberries and avocados. 3400 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.

* Rancho Arnaz--Strawberries, apple cider, pistachio and cashew nuts. 95 North Ventura Ave., Ventura.

* Seaside Banana Gardens--50 varieties of bananas. 6823 Santa Barbara Ave., Ventura.

* Somis Farm--Asparagus and broccoli. 2766 Somis Road, Somis.

* Underwood Ranch--Lettuce, radishes and baby vegetables. 5696 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.

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