It's normal for a muted, Pacific Northwest–like grayness to blanket Los Angeles in the morning this time of year, but it usually burns off around noon, leaving the remainder of the day a lovely sunny 72 degrees. Over the last two weeks, however, the June gloom just wouldn't lift, creating a contagious case of sun-deprived crankiness that spread among Angelenos like swine flu. Fortunately, hints of blue sky cracked the cloud cover early yesterday morning that, combined with the early summer bounty at the Hollywood Farmers' Market (map), was therapeutic.
Last month, Brooks cherries kicked off stone-fruit season with their tangy-crisp sweetness. Now the crimson-hued Bing and Ranier cherries (above), with their Fuji-apple-like shadings, dominate the market stands. But it's the other berries—strawberries, blackberries, mulberries, raspberries, blueberries, and, my favorite, boysenberries—that are the most captivating right now.
Pudwill, Harry's Berries, and Underwood are the best sources of most of these berries, but the best boysenberries can be found at the Jimenez Family Farm stand, relative newcomers to the Hollywood market. The Jimenez family also raises lamb on their 12-acre farm and grow beautiful sapphire-colored blueberries that would make Veruca Salt, well, blue, with envy. A cross between the Pacific blackberry and a raspberry developed by Rudolph Boysen and made famous by Walter Knott (Knott's Berry Farm), the boysenberry has a purple-black color with violet highlights at its edges. It's tart and sweet with the firmness of a blackberry and makes for delicious jams, crisps, pies, and crostatas. They're about halfway into their short season and will only be around for a few more weeks.
And, while nectarines, apricots, plums, and peaches are piling up, I've found most lacking in flavor and texture this early in the season. On the other hand, the pluots are incredible. Developed by Floyd Zaiger, they're a cross between a plum and an apricot (in which the traits of the plum dominate). The best examples at the market this week were from Fresno's Arnett Farms, which uses no chemical pesticides or for their tree-ripened fruits. The best varieties were the sweet and juicy Dapple Dandy and Crimson Hearts and the firm, sweet and tangy Watermelon Pluots. Leave unripe pluots at room temperature for a few days and refrigerate ripe ones wrapped in plastic. Slice them as an afternoon snack, bake them or make ice cream with them. Their firmer texture, slightly bitter skin and sweet-acidic nature make them wonderfully satisfying.
The first fig crop comes and goes so quickly that it's easy to miss it. But fans of this nutty, honey-sweet fruit can rustle up some Black Mission figs from Avila & Sons. Look for soft figs without too much bruising, and eat them quickly; these delicate fruits don't hold up well. If you can get your hands on a lot of figs, stock up and make jam and ice cream to tide you over until the second crop arrives some time between late-August and September.
There's not much new on the vegetable front. Look for squash blossoms, the predecessors to zucchini and other summer squash. Persian cucumbers, haricot vert and eggplants and are starting to turn up, and they taste pretty good, though are not quite in full swing yet. If the weather continues to hold, all the summer edibles will get the burst of sunshine and heat they need, and my fellow Southern Californians will get enough Vitamin D to keep road rage at bay.
- Berries—Strawberries, Blueberries, Boysenberries, Blackberries and Mulberries
- Squash blossoms
Around the Corner
- Summer squash
Later this Summer
About the author: Leah Greenstein is a Los Angeles-based food and wine writer. Her favorite bumper sticker says: "Talk Nerdy to Me." You can find more about L.A.'s farmers' markets and seasonal recipes on her blog, SpicySaltySweet.com.