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BUYING OPPORTUNITIES : Spinach Is In : The Weather's Fine For Popeye's Favorite Crop, and the Famous Sailor Man Would Approve of the Local Fields of Green

May 03, 1990|PEGGY Y. LEE

What President Bush didn't do for broccoli, Popeye did for spinach. For years, parents have been coaxing their children to eat spinach so they would grow up as strong as the most famous spinach-eating sailor in the cartoon world.

"Spinach is going to have to be noted like broccoli as a major health food for it to increase popularity. Myself, I grew up with Popeye the Sailor," says Larry Kawata, ranch manager for San Miguel Produce in Oxnard.

Besides eating uncooked spinach in salads, Kawata recommends eating the green, leafy vegetable with a special sauce that his mother made when he was young. "Squeeze lemon with mayonnaise and soy sauce over boiled spinach . . . it tastes just great."

When shopping for spinach, he suggests checking for thickness of roots and making sure that the root color is pinkish in tone. Although spinach can be grown year-round, at this time of year, Kawata says, the weather in Ventura County is ideal for spinach.

"Spinach in Ventura County is really easy to grow," Kawata says. San Miguel Produce harvests 400 acres yearly.

This year, however, a new variety of mildew has reduced the harvest, Kawata says. "There isn't a fungicide to prevent it . . . so far, it's only found in California."

With about 2,500 acres a year, Ventura County ranks second statewide in the amount of spinach harvested, said Sidney Williams, statistician for the California Agricultural Statistics Service. Although Ventura County does not grow as much spinach as Monterey County, it grosses about $10.4 million to Monterey County's $7.5 million.

For consumers who have no desire to be as strong as Popeye, but are seeking locally grown fare, Valencia oranges have just come into season and will be around through summer.

"They're smaller than navel oranges, and more of a juice orange," says Lyle Carson, owner of Carson Farm Supply in Ojai.

Those seeking something imported and a little unusual might want to try French cornichons, says Mike Somers, manager of Trader Joe's in Ventura. "It's a small gherkin pickle that's pickled in vinegar, with salt and spices and tiny pickled onions for extra tang and crunch." He recommends them as a garnish, especially with French pate.

Also from out of the area are "the world's largest cashews," Somers says. "These things are gigantic . . . at least twice the size of an ordinary cashew."

Those who like soft drinks, but not a lot of the "extras" that go into them, might consider trying Blue Sky Soda, a natural soda from Santa Fe. Lemon lime, mandarin orange, raspberry and cherry cream are all made with no artificial flavors, preservatives or caffeine, Somers says. "That's especially unusual for colas."

The weather early last week was bad for anyone looking for locally caught seafood, but Pacific lobster and local spot prawns are available, said Hipolito Marin, manager of Brandon King Seafood in Oxnard.

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