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 Los Angeles correspondent Leah Greenstein of SpicySaltySweet. Take us to the market, Leah!
If fall had an official color—like poppies are the official flower of California, Humuhumunukunukuapua`a is the official fish of Hawaii and Crocs are the official shoe of Mario Batali—it would have to be orange. Vibrant, warm and evocative of piles of crisp leaves perfect for jumping in, or the jack-o-lantern shrapnel you wade through the morning after Halloween, orange permeates the season.
The brightest orange at the market wasn't from pyramids of pumpkins as you might expect. In fact, there were hardly any pumpkins (perhaps related to the jack-o-lantern shrapnel?). Instead it came from the near fluorescent marigold blooms at the South Central Farmers Cooperative stall. Marigolds are the traditional flower of El Diá De Los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, which started yesterday and continues through today.
Wreaths and crosses made of marigolds (the Aztecs called them cempasuchil, or the flower of 400 lives) are among the many things used to decorate graves and alters honoring loved ones who have passed.
Only slightly less vibrantly-colored were the acorn-shaped Hachiya and squat, tomato-shaped Fuyu persimmons. Some of the prettiest ones were at K&K Farms from Orosi, a fourth generation family-owned and operated farm.
Mud Creek Ranch, Peacock Family Farm, and Burkart Farms all had piles of persimmons too in varying shades of orange—some heathered, some flickering like the flames from the recent fires.
Pick the darkest color of either kind and make sure to wait until your Hachiyas are pudding-soft before eating (otherwise this delicious fruit might taste like persimmon-flavored sand paper). These are best for baking, custards and ice creams, whereas the Fuyus, which are less tannic and thus more edible when firm, are the perfect complement to a salad finished with goat cheese and pomegranate seeds.
The oranges start to get more subtle here. Mud Creek Ranch of Santa Paula had a stack of furry, lumpy yellow-green quinces, the flesh of which, when cooked, turns a honeyed pink-orange color like a sunset over the Pacific. A relative of both apples and pears, quinces are one of my favorite fall fruits. As they ripen their exterior flesh turns more yellow and the quince will give off a perfume that's wonderfully heady and tropical, like Tahitian vanilla and pineapple rolled into one.
Unripe, they're astringent like persimmons but at their best, they are unlike anything you've ever tasted. Equally at home in savory and sweet preparations, they are often used for pastes, jams, and jellies because their naturally high pectin content helps those things gel.
Less orange, but equally exciting were the tender shallots from the family-owned certified organic Sage Mountain Farm. Long and spindly like spring onions or garlic, these shallots are much sweeter than the cured bulbs we're accustomed to.
The new crop of fall beets has arrived with crimson-colored flesh. The bouquet above was from Weiser Family Farm. They're so sweet they hardly need anything but a little salt and olive oil, but they'd also taste good pickled or sliced and dusted with chile powder, paprika, salt, and a squeeze of lime.
I love roasting a chicken for Sunday supper, simply rubbed with salt Zuni Cafe style (mine is always from Lily's eggs). What to make with that chicken changes with the season.
In the summer, when I do the bird on the grill, I like panzanella with lots of fresh tomatoes. In the winter, hearty roasted vegetables. While it's still slightly warm out I love celery root puree. Finlay Farms has burly looking celeriacs, all gnarled like an old crone. Peeled, cooked in milk and blended with a little bit of potato, it is fresh and light and slightly sweet, with all the crisp and refreshing qualities of celery and the creaminess of good mashed potatoes.