Market Scene: Cherries, Beets, and Sour Plums

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. Today, Leah Greenstein (SpicySaltySweet) drops by from Los Angeles. Take us to market, Leah!


Brooks cherries from Ken's Produce.

When I was a kid, I was allergic to everything red (or at least that's what my mother told me, my fiancé thinks she made it up). Tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and Kool-Aid fruit punch were all off limits. Fortunately, after years of miserable pizza parties and strawberry shortcake headaches, I grew out my food allergies. And what I found on the other side of antihistamines were tangy-sweet, ruby-colored cherries that made all of the waiting worthwhile.

Cherry season is just beginning in earnest here in Southern California, with the early-ripening Brooks variety showing up at least a half-dozen stands at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. The best I found at Sunday's market were from Ken's Produce, at the south end of the market near Sunset.

The cherries were firm and wonderfully sweet, with mouthwatering acidity. Bings, Lamberts, and Rainiers will start appearing over the next month. Market guru and writer Russ Parsons suggests looking for the darkest cherries to get the sweetest ones—and to store them wrapped tightly in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your fridge, where they will last an amazing 2 to 3 weeks. Eat them out of hand, bake a clafouti or a cherry plop, or try a cherry soup with melon sorbet for a truly unique and refreshing warm-weather dessert. [Beets and sour plums, after the jump.]


Chioggia beets from South Central Farmers.

While we're on the topic of all things red, it may technically be the tail end of beet season, but the market is teeming with them—from crimson colored ones, to goldens to candy-striped Chioggias— they're easy to roast on the grill in tin foil when the weather gets warm, and can be quite refreshing tossed with a little olive oil, salt and mint. Pick ones with healthy looking greens, which are amazing raw in salad or sautéed over polenta or stirred into a farro risotto.


A Japanese sour plum.

While cherries and beets are ubiquitous, a little digging around the market turned up ume, also known as Japanese plums or "sour" plums. The Japanese plum blossom is a symbol of spring in Japan, and the resulting little green fruits look almost like crab apples and have a firm, crunchy texture and a palate-cleansing sour flavor. Doused with a little hot sauce or dusted with kosher salt, these are quite delightful out of hand, but most Japanese eat them dried and pickled (umeboshi) with rice. I also found recipes for ume jam and have a friend who's working on a salted plum cocktail.

Always a favorite for pasture-raised chickens, eggs and ducks, I also discovered that Healthy Family Farms from Santa Paula is also selling locally raised lamb. You can order any cuts you'd like to pick up the following week. The season for lamb is short, so order early and freeze what you can't use. At only $13.99 a pound for local lamb, it's a steal.

Finally, I'm pleased to announce the opening of the Hollywood Farmers' Kitchen, which is endeavoring to be a commercial teaching, processing, and retail kitchen using the incredible products available at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. The revenue will be used to support nutritional education efforts and to provide job-training in food preparation for the area's low-income residents. While they're technically in "sneak peek" mode, they were serving up an $8 prix fixe on Sunday with grilled polenta, sautéed market greens and garlic, a poached market egg or a frittata with young leeks and spinach from the market (depending on arrival), your choice of farmers' sausage or organic avocado with sea salt and seasonal fruit compote with Mornay sauce for dessert. Walter Smith, who is working to get the Farmers' Kitchen off the ground, says it will be serving breakfast and lunch to the vendors and market-goers on Sundays and hope to be open for lunch Tuesday through Thursday soon.

Seasonal Produce Guide

In Season Right This Minute

Brooks cherries Asparagus Sour plums Mulberries Strawberries Artichokes Beets Lamb Spring onions Favas English peas Haricot vert Kale

Coming Soon

Apriums Plums Nectarines Corn Blueberries Cucumbers Summer squash