Although the San Joaquin Valley grows much of the nation's produce, the area has few outstanding farmers markets. Two fine mid-size markets are in Fresno, the region's largest city.
The River Park event began last September at a shopping center at the prosperous northern end of the city. At last week's Tuesday market, Linda Apkarian of Reedley (who also sells at the Thousand Oaks and Santa Clarita markets) sold superbly juicy Golden Sweet apricots and fragrant Santa Rosa plums. Shirley Boujikian of Raisin City (whose family also sells at many markets in the Southland) had yellow, sweet-tart Armenian dried plums and fabulously plump Princess raisins with intense Muscat flavor.
A local fig magnate, Maury DeBenedetto Sr., showed up to help his daughter Lisa sell breba (first crop) Kadota and Mission figs; the main harvest will follow after a hiatus of a few weeks. Rebecca Torosian of Dinuba had super-sweet Flavor Supreme pluots and July Santa Rosa plums, similar to the parent variety but a few days later. Evan and Willene Yashimoto of Reedley sold firm but flavorful Honeykist nectarines, one of the best of the new low-acid yellow-fleshed varieties.
Lou and Sharlyn Pasquale, local organic growers who also supply Fresno's splendid Echo restaurant, had tasty Zenese tomatoes, dark red, lobed Piedmontese heirlooms good for salads and sauces, as well as foot-long, serpentine tromboncino squashes ("little trumpets") with bulbous ends.
On an offbeat note, Enrique Reade, who works as an embalmer at a local funeral home, sold ferocious bottled hot sauces called D.O.A. and Rigor Mortis.
A few miles away, the Vineyard market, founded in 1979, operates under the welcome shade of a 22-foot-tall barrel-vaulted grape arbor. Although the manager, Rick Erganian, recently withdrew the market from state certification (he couldn't abide new paperwork requirements, he said), he features genuine farmers, many of whom sell at the River Park market.
Last Wednesday, Michelle Reynolds of Kingsburg brought pale green, grooved Armenian cucumbers, round Eightball zucchini and Casper eggplant--an ivory-white variety with mild, mushroom-like flavor, named after the friendly ghost. Rocio Agraz of Hanford sold garlic, basil and heirloom sweet onions. Andrew Scarabello offered wonderfully aromatic dried Blenheim apricots and excellent dried Mission and Calmyrna figs, grown nearby. Gearing up for today's festivities, John Ugaste of Reedley sold giant, sugary watermelons, both seeded and seedless.
Fresno River Park farmers market, Blackstone and Nees avenues, May through Oct. 16 Tuesdays 5:30 to 9 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fresno Vineyard farmers market, Shaw and Blackstone avenues, Wednesdays 3 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, 6 a.m. to noon.