Summer is approaching, a time when neighborhood children will be setting up lemonade stands on street corners and more lemon meringue pie will be showing up at dessert time.
Lemons are available year-round, but "this is a good time for lemons in this area," said Tony Thatcher, manager of Friend's Ranch in Ojai. "The coastal, Mediterranean climate here is really ideal."
And lemons are useful for cleaning, as well for pies and lemonade. "I have one lady that comes all the way from Los Angeles to buy lemons to clean her garbage disposal," Thatcher said.
Several farmers sell lemons at the Ventura Farmers' Market, said Manager Karen Collins. She recommends using lemons to clean stainless steel pots and pans. "Take a piece of lemon, squeeze it, use the rind and the juice to scour. It does a great job and it's not abrasive."
Lemons can be purchased unwaxed and unpolished at Rancho Arnaz in Ojai, said co-owner Diane Lee. "They're just right off the ranch," she said.
Ventura County is the largest lemon producer in the United States, according to Tom McNair, a statistician with the California Agricultural Statistics Service. About 23,400 acres are devoted to the crop, almost half of the total 48,000 lemon acreage in the state. In the United States, only California and Arizona grow lemons on a large-production scale, McNair said.
Dessert-lovers not in the mood for lemon meringue pie, and who want something smooth, sweet and not acidic may want to try bananas, also locally grown. Brazilians taste like creamy vanilla and Jamaican Reds have a rich, aromatic smell similar to custard, said Paul Turner, co-owner of Seaside Banana Gardens in Ventura.
Both varieties are short, about 4 to 6 inches long, and are ideal dessert foods, Turner said. Seaside Banana is also selling banana plants for homeowners who want to grow their own.
From out of the area, Spanish artichoke hearts are now available, said Lee Trees of Mrs. Gooch's in Thousand Oaks. "They're wonderful on your regular green salad, plus you can put them in your quiches."
Lite Dammer, a cheese imported from Holland, may interest the health-conscious, Trees said. It is made from skim milk, contains 20% less fat and has a low sodium content. "It tastes like Jarlsberg . . . with a nutty flavor," he said.
New Zealand Gala apples, "very sweet, fairly large and great for pies" are also coming in right now, Trees said.
A tasty local catch of the week is halibut, said Ed Lusk, co-owner of Cal Pacifica Seafood in Ventura. "The big thing is California halibut. The halibut up here is dynamite . . . some of it comes from Channel Islands and some of it from the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara."
Spot prawns from Santa Barbara and fresh angel shark from the Channel Islands are also good local catches, Lusk said.
A guide to finding fresh produce, seafood and other items
* Bennett's Honey Farms--Four varieties of honey. 3678 Piru Canyon Road, Piru.
* Brandon King Seafood--Local spot prawns caught from Port Hueneme and Dungeness crab from Alaska, all live. 3920 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard.
* Cal Pacifica--Local fresh halibut, Santa Barbara spot prawns and several varieties of shark. 36 Franklin Lane, Ventura.
* Carson Farm Supply--Navel oranges and blood oranges, 111 Topa Topa Road, Ojai.
* Central Market--Pencil-thin asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, navel oranges and strawberries. 505 Wood Road, Camarillo.
* Friend's Ranches--Tangerines, tangelos, lemons and navel oranges. 15150 Maricopa Highway, Ojai.
* Queen Ranch--Cauliflower, beets, carrots, onions, lettuce, mushrooms and strawberries. 3400 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.
* Rancho Arnaz--Strawberries, lemons, apple cider, pistachio and cashew nuts. 95 North Ventura Ave., Ventura.
* Seaside Banana Gardens--50 varieties of bananas. 6823 Santa Barbara Ave., Ventura.
* Somis Farm--Asparagus and broccoli. 2766 Somis Road, Somis.
* Underwood Ranch--Lettuce, radishes and baby vegetables. 5696 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.