Market Scene: Squash, Sugar Plums, Apples, and Pears in Southern California
Note: On Mondays, one of our various Market Scene correspondents checks in with what's fresh at farmstands, what's coming up, and what you better get while the gettin's good. This week, we hear from SoCal correspondent Leah Greenstein of SpicySaltySweet. Take us to the market, Leah!
I'm tired of tomatoes. There. I said it. After two months straight gorging myself on Early Girls and Purple Cherokees, Green Zebras and Sun Golds, I think I've finally had enough tangy-sweet-tomato-goodness to last me until next summer—or at least until January, when I break into my stash of homemade canned heirloom tomatoes for lasagnas and stews.
Fortunately, the Los Angeles farmers' markets (and Southern California's farmers), from Hollywood (map) to Santa Monica (map) and everywhere in between, seem ready to oblige, with fall's delights finally making inroads.
There are, of course, some hangers-on that I'm grateful for. Namely Italian Prune Plums, also known as Sugar Plums or Empress Plums (prunus Domestica). More oval-shaped than Satsuma or Damson, they have a deep, purply skin with golden flesh and a freestone pit inside. These wonderfully sweet plums are perfect for baking or cooking (try them in a kuchen or with pork chops), and, as their name indicates, they're also great for drying. Store ripe sugar plums, unwashed, in the fridge. These will only be around for a few more weeks, so don't wait.
There are still a couple of months left in apple season, and I mean the amazingly crisp, just-picked apples with heady perfumes and poetic names like Spitzenberg or Belle de Boskop, apples like those from Mike Cirone's See Canyon Orchard in San Luis Obispo.
Not to knock Golden Delicious and Gala—but those apples are like imitation Rolexes compared to some of these heirloom varieties, they may look like the real thing, but something's not quite right. Whether you prefer tart or sweet, are looking for something for baking or afternoon snacking, these apples offer more complexity and much better texture than the supermarket counterparts.
Bosc, Comice, Forelle, and Seckel—pear varieties range perhaps even more so than apple varieties. The European ones, like avocados, are picked before they are ripe, becoming creamy and soft when they reach their peak. (Leave them at room temperature in your house until they are ripe; store them in a loose bag in the fridge afterward.)
Asian pears like the Ya Li and Shinsei varieties, have a crisper, more granular texture and can be shaped like European pears or more like flattened apples.
Walking up to the McGrath Family Farms stand in Hollywood or Santa Monica is the gastronomic equivalent to rolling around in a crispy pile of golden and crimson leaves. They have heirloom Shelling Beans like Tongues of Fire, which are similar to cranberry beans and are perfect for baking or using in soups since they hold their texture well. Sadly, though, they don't keep their beautiful flame-licked pattern.
McGrath also has a wide variety of winter squashes and gourds, including Sugar Babies, Kabochas, Carnivals, Butternuts, and Hubbards. Slice them and sauté with red wine vinegar for an Italian-style agrodolce. Or roast and puree them for a hearty fall soup with some shelling beans, carrots, onion, celery, and pasta.
Coming SoonPomegranates Quince Persimmons Broccoli Cauliflower
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.