DOWNTOWN — There’s a winter nip in the air. Southern California has endured one of the colder winters on record. But don’t despair. Toss on a warm sweater and head to the Farmers’ Market. This is the time of year when root vegetables, apples and nutrient filled mushrooms are harvested, and make their appearance. That “cold snap” packed panache into the parsnips, put a pungent taste in the truffles, and added an extra crispness to those Fuji apples you love so much. This is where you want to be to get the very best in seasonal produce.
“It’s all about what’s in season,” explains Farmers’ Market director Laura Avery. “Everything that comes to the Farmers’ Market has to be grown in California. That’s why you won’t find cantaloupes even though you might be able to find them at Vons, because they’re not in production in California.”
Since 1981, when it first opened, the Wednesday Downtown Farmers’ Market (on Arizona Avenue between Fourth and Second streets) has been bringing us the best in seasonal produce — Saturday’s market debuted in 1991 to accommodate those working during the week — and is the only one run by the State Department of Food and Agriculture thereby ensuring strict guidelines.
WEISER FAMILY FARMS
For the very best root vegetables stop by Weiser Family Farms. Their colorful display of carrots is enticing. “In nature, yellow, red, white and purple carrots have been around longer than the orange ones. It was actually the Dutch who developed the orange carrot through cross-pollination because orange represented the color of the Dutch royal family. Red is really the most common,” explains owner Alex Weiser.
Nantes (the orange carrots), Purple Haze, Yellowstone, White Satin and red varieties are $2.50 per pound and you can mix and match. For juicing Weiser recommends an assortment that way, “you get the anti-oxidants and nutrients from several blends.”
Sid Weiser (Alex’s father and a former chemistry teacher) opened their farm in 1977 when he decided to follow his dream of working off the land. The family started with fruit trees and after acquiring farmland in other locations they branched out into vegetables. Located in the Lucern Valley, the sustainable Weiser Farms is fortunate to be privy to three unique growing climates; spring, fall and winter — this enables them to provide a large variety of vegetables.
They’ve become known for their most unique blend of fingerling potatoes; Rose Finn Apple, Red Thumb, French, Banana and Ozette — all seasonal priced at $2.50 a pound. Parsnips are also $2.50 per pound. “They are not as popular in the United States but they’re great for soups and stews,” says Weiser. Nearby are red, orange and Candy Stripe beets — which when cut in a cross section display richly hued, white and magenta rings. These go for $1.50 loose or $2 per bunch.
The piéce de resistance however is the Romanesco cauliflower. This fractal food — a complex shaped organism where each cell is a replica of the other — and which looks like something out of a sci-fi flick — is also one of the most stunning. It takes approximately three months to grow and costs $5.50 per pound. It’s excellent served raw as it’s crunchier than cauliflower and is also more savory.
Their produce is also available at Whole Foods.
For more info, visit www.weiserfamilyfarms.com.
Specializing in seasonal fruit, Ha Farms, which opened in 1985 and is owned and operated by David Ha, displays a mouth-watering array of apples. According to the on-site manager, Choon Kim, “We try to make everything as natural as possible and use minimal processing.”
Their apples are the crispest in the market.
“Apples need both snow to hit the trees as well as the heat of the summer for optimal growth. When the apple has to resist the natural temperatures that move from severe cold to severe heat it tends to grow more flavorful and firmer. If you grow the same exact Fuji apple at 70 degrees all year round it will be a softer, less flavorful apple because it didn’t have to endure the extreme season. Because we have four seasons in Tehachapi, our apples tend to be sweeter and crispier.” explains Kim. Which is why you can buy the exact same Fuji from different parts of California and they will all taste differently.
Seasonal delights include Cameo or Fuji Apples at $3 per pound and Red, Golden and Gala Apples at $1.75 per pound.
For a sensational taste treat you must try the apple fruit rolls. “Everything has an apple base because it gives the fruit roll a thickness and sweetness,” says Kim. The fruit roll flavors are: apple/pear, apple/cinnamon, apple/peach, apple/jalepeño, apple/raspberry and apple/strawberry depending on what’s in season, and nothing has any added sugar. Sublimely sweet, these sugar-free confections melt in your mouth. Another must try is the walnut and fruit brittle. Made with walnuts and seasonal Fuji apples this is another super-sweet item that surprisingly has no sugar.
Ha also sells bags of dried apples, pears and peaches.
“We decided not to put any sugar on our dried Fujis because they are so sweet,” says Kim.
They offer two types of dried apples; plain and cinnamon — which tastes similar to apple pie. Cinnamon promotes blood circulation and is a great item for diabetics or those of us who are simply trying to avoid added sugar. The dried fruit comes in two sizes: $3 and $10 bags.
Fore more info, visit www.hasapplefarm.com.
DAVID WEST’S FINE PALATE FOODS
If it’s fungi you seek, you’ll be wanting to head to this affable vendor. West, who hails from Brooklyn and got into the mushroom business by accident, knows much about his product.
“Hedgehogs, which are in season now, grow around the base of pine trees, which is why they have a spicy bite,” West says.
And bite is the word, since these mushrooms have “teeth” instead of gills. These tooth-like projections are what inspired their name. When cooked they are a bit chewier than some of the other varieties and has the sweet and nutty flavor of a mild Chanterelle. The Hedgehogs, the Yellowfoot (a type of Hedghog) and Black Trumpets (which have no gills) are the delights of the season and are available until March.
The Hedgehogs go for $20 a pound. West also sells the delectable and coveted Black Truffle, which can be added to scrambled eggs, risotto and pates. These are $20 per ounce.
He also has Maitakes.
“These are cultivated and grown on oak which gives the mushroom a rich, meaty flavor,” explains West.
They are $14 per pound and $28 per pound. Baby Shitake’s go for $7 per pound.