Unknown Nectarines in Hacienda Heights

The farmers market that opened Saturday at the eastern edge of Steinmetz Park in Hacienda Heights was one of the year's most promising debuts. The manager, Charles Kirkwood, deserves credit for selecting a roster of small-scale, high-quality growers.

Serving a heavily Chinese American area, the market offers a wide range of intriguing Asian vegetables. From nearby Rowland Heights, Tseng Biyen of C & E Farms had slender, flavorful Chinese celery, tender bok choy and tung-hao , a leafy chrysanthemum relative eaten in soup. Billy and Yea Mua of Fresno sold green and purple long beans, fresh young pea shoots and diverse Asian gourds, including mao qua , a fuzzy, oblong winter melon cooked and eaten like zucchini.

Yao and Pao Tsai Cheng of Moorpark displayed small, pale green but fiery hot peppers; Japanese cucumbers in four shapes and sizes; and two stages of celtuce, or Chinese lettuce--young leaves, to be eaten raw in salads or stir-fried, and crisp, succulent, stems from mature plants, with a flavor combining celery and lettuce, to be peeled, sliced and eaten raw, braised, sauteed or pickled. They also sold xian chun , a pungent herb cooked with eggs.

Mimi Hong had just the eggs for such a dish, tiny but tasty ones from Silkie chickens, and larger brown eggs from La Belle Rouge birds. She sold superbly flavorful chickens, too, including the black-skinned, black-boned type believed by many Asians to have medicinal properties.

Gless Ranch had bargain bags of pink grapefruits from Hemet, perhaps California's finest growing area for that citrus. Phil Valvo of Fontana sold excellent preserves made from his own fruit, including grapefruit marmalade, and raspberry, boysenberry and apricot jams. John Hurley of Dinuba's Summer Harvest Farm (accompanied by his daughter Signe and her fiance, Juan Castaneda, who will be getting married on Sunday) had ripe, organically grown Rich Lady peaches, one of the best modern commercial varieties, and heirloom white nectarines, ugly and leathery on the outside, but rich and creamy, with intense flavor and a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. The variety is unknown, coming from an old tree on a property he once owned. One thing is sure: nectarines don't get any better than this. Hurley's stand will have the season's last picking this weekend at farmers markets in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica as well as Hacienda Heights.

Hacienda Heights farmers market, Steinmetz Park Senior Center, 1545 S. Stimson Ave., Saturdays 7 a.m. to noon.

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