Here just in time

Times Staff Writer

The best place to see fall colors in Los Angeles isn't along some hiking trail; it's at area farmers markets, which are offering a cornucopia of produce that rivals any forest for its array of red, gold, orange, purple and green.

This is a banner year for persimmons. Vivid red-orange, extra-large and sweet Fuyus at $1.50 a pound are perhaps the best crop in a decade, said Shaun Rosendahl, owner of Rosendahl Farms in the San Joaquin Valley. Ripe and squishy Hachiya persimmons are plentiful now, but if you can't eat all of them fresh, they're the best variety for cooking and freezing, said Betty Hamilton of Pritchett Farms in Visalia.

The sturdier Fuyu is wonderful as a first course, sliced thin, drizzled with lime juice, cilantro, a few pomegranate seeds and a little salt. Hachiyas make a terrific quick dessert: Just quarter them from the pointed side, but not all the way through the calyx, open them like flowers, add a dollop of Cointreau-flavored whipped cream and scatter with chopped walnuts.

It's the start of the season for Satsuma mandarins, and that means they're particularly sweet and delicious -- the perfect Thanksgiving finish for those who can't make room for pie. Rosendahl Farms has beautiful ones for $1.50 per pound. They're expected to peak in about a month.

Braeburn and Granny Smith apples, tart and juicy and fabulous for pies, are plentiful at many grower stalls, including organic grower See Canyon Farms at Santa Monica Farmers Market.

Here on the eve of the feast, the farmers markets offer harried cooks some of the best shortcuts going. Though Thanksgiving is usually a starch-fest of potatoes and stuffing, fast-cooking kales; tiny, new vegetables such as baby summer squash; and small, tender Brussels sprouts will enliven your table. Baskets of baby artichokes, baby summer squash and zucchini blossoms are selling for about $2 a pound from Sun Coast Farms at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market along Arizona Avenue at Second Street.

McGrath Family Farms, catty-corner from Sun Coast, has fresh lima beans that they've gone to the considerable trouble of shelling. Simmer them for 15 minutes in water with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of diced tomato and even the most devoted enemies of lima beans will be converted.

With the increased availability of heirloom winter squash, most selling at $1 a pound, now's the moment to swap out marshmallow-covered, canned sweet potatoes for the more delicate flavor of squash.

For 10 years, Dede Thogmartin of Thogmartin Farms in Riverside County has been growing heirloom squash varieties, including golden Hubbard; baby Hubbard blue ballet and Queensland blue both feature greenish-blue rinds and sweet, golden-yellow flesh. Winter heirloom varieties all make great substitutes for pumpkin in pies.

As beautiful as they are sweet, the $1-per-pound winter squash from Weiser Family Farms ranges from the all-orange, baseball-size Gold Nugget to the blue-green soccer-ball-size Hubbard to the yellow, orange and green on Heart of Gold and Sweet Dumpling, which could serve one or two people.

Alex Weiser of Weiser Family Farms is selling hand-dug La Ratte fingerling potatoes for $2.50 a pound. The papery skins are so thin, you can rub them away with your fingertips. Tossed in a baking dish with olive oil, with a few branches of thyme, some small quartered onions, coarse sea salt and black pepper, these roast up beautifully.

Specialty carrots perk up a crudites platter, whether they are Weiser's $2-a-pound, extra-sweet orange Nantes carrots or Jaime Farm's yellow-gold or bright orange sugar snaps at $1.50 and $1 a pound, respectively.

If you've left most of your produce shopping to today, arrive early. Stephen Vodantis, the Santa Monica market coordinator, said 25 to 30% more customers come the day before Thanksgiving, boosting attendance to near 12,000. A few farmers may set up extra fast, allowing early shoppers a 10- or 15-minute jump on the 9 a.m. opening time.

And don't forget to bring a big bag -- you just might want a few flowers to go with your edible centerpiece.



The holiday schedule

Markets open today include:

Anaheim: Center Street Promenade between Clementine Street and Anaheim Boulevard, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (instead of Thursday).

Fullerton: 450 W. Orangethorpe Ave., 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Gardena: Hollypark Methodist Church, 13000 S. Van Ness Ave., 7:30 to 11:30 a.m.; and, 162nd Street and La Salle Avenue, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Hollywood: Sears parking lot, St. Andrews and Wilton places, 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Huntington Park: Salt Lake Park, Bissell Street and Florence Avenue, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Los Angeles: St. Agnes Church, Adams Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, 2 to 5:30 p.m.

Rancho Santa Margarita: Dove Canyon Drive, east of Plano Trabuco, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Santa Monica: Arizona Avenue between 2nd and 4th, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Tustin: El Camino Real and 3rd Street, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Closed: Thursday markets will be closed for the holiday. On Friday, the Long Beach market at the Promenade is canceled. On Saturday, the Santa Monica market at 2nd and Arizona is canceled.

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