White nectarines: For some Southern California fruit lovers, summer hasn't really begun until they've tasted their first Snow Queen white nectarine from Art Lange's Honey Crisp farm. White nectarines have become very popular in the last 10 years, but most new varieties are sub-acid and taste simply sweet. Lange's can provide one of the most amazing flavor experiences you will ever have: intensely sweet but with enough acidity to be interesting and layers of flowery peach flavor. But Snow Queens are not the only great white nectarines you'll find. Kennedy Farms has Stanwicks, an antique variety with a distinctive, almost wine-y flavor. This summer probably won't be a peak one for stone fruit. Choose carefully, though, and you'll be rewarded with a memorable treat.
Snow Queens from Honey Crisp, $5 per pound; Stanwicks from Kennedy Farms, $3 per pound.
Berries: Fairly hard to find at Southern California farmers markets even just a couple of years ago, today you'll find all kinds: raspberries (both red and golden), blackberries, olallieberries, boysenberries, loganberries, marionberries and even locally grown blueberries. Though raspberries are familiar to everyone, the others need a little sorting out. Loganberry is an old California variety (developed in Santa Cruz in the 1880s) that is a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry. Boysenberries are another California cross (created in Napa in the 1920s) between blackberries, raspberries and loganberries. Olallieberries, which were developed in Oregon but are widely grown in California, are a combination of blackberry and raspberry. Marionberries are a highly flavored old American cross between two varieties of blackberries. The flavors of all these berries differ mainly in degree of tartness, with olallieberries and loganberries being the sharpest. Blueberries used to be almost solely the product of cool, wet areas such as Maine and the Michigan peninsula. In recent years, new varieties that don't require as much cold have been introduced, and now blueberries are being grown even in Southern California.
Berries, various vendors, about $3 per pint.
Spring onions: Usually we think of onions as coming in two forms. They are either fresh, with long green tops and slender bulbs, or storage onions, with great big bulbs and no tops. In the spring and early summer, we get onions that are halfway in between. These are immature storage onions, with tops that are still green and fresh but with bottoms that have begun to swell. In another week or so, they'll have grown too big to sell this way, but right now they have a sweet, mildly spicy flavor and are terrific on the grill, lightly charred. Just toss a bunch of them on the fire at the same time you're starting your steak or chicken breasts, and they'll be ready when the meat is done.
Spring onions, various vendors, about $2 per pound.
-- Russ Parsons