In most states, you know it's fall because the leaves change colors, turning golden, crimson and persimmon, until the tops of trees look aflame. Here in Southern California you know it's fall when everything is actually on fire and the Santa Ana winds are blowing hard enough to knock down small children. While our crisp hills smolder and turn brown like burnt cakes from Ventura County to Fontana to the Sepulveda Pass, there's the upside in knowing that fall weather also means ton of marvelous fall produce at the Hollywood Farmers' Market (map).
The new crop of pistachios has finally arrived! The Santa Barbara Pistachio Company, located in Sierra Madre Mountains in Santa Barbara County, is owned by the Zannon family. Their naturally tree-ripened pistachios are hot air-dried to help them maintain their amazing flavor and lock in the nutrients. You can buy a wide variety of fresh, flavored organic pistachios at their market stall including Crushed Garlic, Lemon Zing and Red Hot Habeñero pistachios to snack on, along with raw kernels that are incredibly versatile: try pistachio pesto, pistachio truffles or pistachio-curried turkey. They also have pistachio oil, which is great for dressing salads and pistachio flour, which they recommend for everything from pancakes to veggie burgers.
Wonderfully tangy, the slightest bit sweet and chock full of antioxidants, it's no wonder we all love the pomegranate's ruby-colored jewels. Though the Pomegranate season started back in August, the wan arils, as the seeds are called, in most market specimens haven't been too enticing. But this week pomegranates from Mud Creek Ranch, Burkart Farms and Peacock Family Farms (among others) had long cracks in their leathery skins; they were literally bursting with shirt-staining juice. These are the pomegranates you want, not the pretty, shiny, un-bruised ones. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds on salads, toss them with farro or couscous, reduce them into glazes or muddle them into cocktails.
If the weather would cool off just a tad bit more then Angelenos could thoroughly enjoy all of the beautiful winter squashes that have taken over the market. Frankly, it's worth cranking up the oven, even on 90 degree days, because roasting is probably the best way to enjoy butternut squashes the color of caramel, acorn squashes that look like they dropped from some mythical gigantic oak and pumpkins the color of Mario Batali's Crocs. The folks at Underwood Family Farms also had lovely sugar baby pumpkins perfect for roasting whole and gorgeous multi-colored turban squashes that would also make a festive tureen for squash soup. The South Central Farmers' Cooperative had a number of different organic pumpkins including the snowy white chilacayote (also called Malabar squash), which is frequently used to make the Day of the Dead treat Calabaza en Tacha, candied pumpkin.
There are, basically, two kinds of persimmons available at the Hollywood Farmers' Market right now. The Fuyus like those I found at Burkart Farms are flat and tomato-y looking and can be eaten firm or soft. The second kind, the pointy Hachiya over at Peacock Family Farms should only be eaten when soft unless you're trying to teach a wine drinker about tannins. Hachiyas are extremely tannic when unripe and that astringent nature will make your mouth dry up like the L.A. River. Pick darker orange, softer persimmons of either typethese are riperand you can hasten the ripening process by putting the fruit in a paper bag as you would a peach or an avocado. Store ripe persimmons in the fridge to keep. Try using the firmer Fuyus in a salsa to complement halibut or pork. Soft Hachiyas make great ice cream and quick breads.
By far the coolest, creepiest looking edible at the farmers' market this week were the Buddha's Hand citrons from Bernard Ranches in Riverside. Notable for its long, skeleton-like fingers, lemony fragrance, and pith-free pulp, the rind of a Buddha's Hand can be used in any recipe that calls for lemon zest. Hangar One made it famous infused in vodka infusion, though I think it makes for an even better home-infused gin. Grate it over fish like Chris Cosentino of San Francisco's Incanto, or into cookies like the Lemon Thyme Madeleines I plan on making this week. If you're feeling really crafty, you can use it to make your own citronella candles, or you can simply spice up your Thanksgiving dinner conversation with a giant Buddha's hand instead of a bouquet as your table's centerpiece.