If you want a good peach, you are sure to find one on Arizona Avenue these days. Simply stand at the front of the booth for Andy’s Orchard each Wednesday at the Downtown Farmers Market, lean forward and pick a piece of paradise from either a peach, plum or apricot.

If you want a good story, however, you should wander toward the back of the booth. That’s where you’ll likely find David Karp, the self-proclaimed and nationally renowned ‘fruit detective.’

“I’m very fond of my customers and I like to hook them up with some great fruit,” Karp said on a recent Wednesday in July as he directed the pastry chef from Craft in Century City to his four boxes of Santa Rosa Plums. A label on the box promised “famous Santa Rosa flavor – both tart at the skin and at the stone, but in between pure succulence with a sweet, classic, ‘plumy’ flavor.”

Pastry Chef Shannon Swindle said the plums would most likely end up served raw, no extra sweetness or time in the oven necessary.

The professionals at Andy’s Orchard are dedicated to growing the best varieties in the best climate. They sell their fruit in Santa Monica for only three months – typically picking the last peaches and plums before the end of August.

While Karp himself has been published, interviewed and featured in major magazines like The New Yorker, Smithsonian, Gourmet and more, when speaking to the Daily Press about his produce he preferred to lavish praise on his business partner.

“Andy Mariani is the patron saint of specialty stone fruit in California,” Karp said. “There’s nobody like him in the world. He is a living treasure.”

Karp met Mariani nearly thirty years ago while researching apricots for an article.  The two bonded over their obsession with great tasting fruit.

The Mariani family began growing quality fruit in the Santa Clara Valley in 1957, when they bought a sunny, south-facing swath of land, according to the company’s website. Andy is the second generation and now maintains one of the largest collections of stone fruit varieties on the west coast.

Visitors to the farm in Morgan Hill can meet Andy himself, who gives tours of the land. Karp says the location is the key factor in producing delicious stone fruit.

“Where Andy grows, it’s warm enough during the day to sweeten the fruit, but cools down at night, which is crucial for letting the fruit stay on the tree to develop full color and flavor,” Karp said. He says the duo seek to attain “high flavor” in every bite, a Victorian term that connotes sweetness, acidity and aroma.

“Gentlemen would bond over fruit in the same way they would today over a game of golf or a bottle of wine,” Karp said.

Those gentlemen would likely be dismayed by the state of stone fruit in the grocery store aisle, where peaches and apricots are grown where land is cheap rather than ideal and picked before ripe, resulting in tougher, mealier, sour specimens.

In contrast, stone fruits in Andy’s Orchard are allowed to linger on the tree and picked at the last moment. Each bite is soft, sweet and juicy. There is, of course, a downside to bringing boxes of tree-ripened fruit down the coast to Santa Monica – a short shelf life.

“Andy picks ripe to a fault,” Karp said.

Meaning anything brought home from the Wednesday market should be enjoyed immediately.

Santa Monica has four weekly farmers’ markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

kate@www.smdp.com

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press