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IN SEASON : Hail, Hail, the Corn's Not Here

August 06, 1992|RUSS PARSONS

For the past three years, Los Angeles grocery stores have made much of the arrival of Olathe sweet corn from a tiny community in the Uncompaghre Valley on the Western slope of the Rocky Mountains, near Grand Junction. A hybrid developed to be sweeter and more tender than most varieties, its season is heralded by newspaper ads and radio blurbs.

This year, the news isn't so good. The corn--just as sweet as ever--is in the stores now, but it may not last long. In fact, there is some doubt whether there will be any around for the much-hyped Labor Day corn-a-thon.

The villain? A freak hailstorm two weeks ago that battered 200 acres of cornfields, turning thriving waist-high corn plants into stubble in less than 20 minutes. "There were drifts of hail two feet deep," said one grower. "There was nothing left. It looked like an atom bomb went off."

Because of the way the corn is planted--different fields at different times so the corn will mature and come to market continuously--the effect of the storm will probably begin to be felt during the third week of August. The storm knocked out between one and two weeks' supply (roughly 20% of the total crop), though a best-case scenario has ears back in the market by the end of the month.

* A bountiful summer of avocados is winding to a close. Harvesting is almost done in the southern growing areas of San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties, which puts the burden squarely on Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where the season runs a month later. Prices should climb as a result.

* Melon growers in the Westside district of the San Joaquin Valley thinned their plantings this summer in order to avoid a surplus like the one that ruined the Coachella Valley harvest earlier in the year. It worked. Because of the smaller supply, prices are slightly higher--though, certainly, they are still a bargain. Quality is very good as well.

* The woes in the lettuce fields are continuing. Heat and humidity have severely cut back the harvests of both iceberg and Romaine lettuce in the Salinas Valley, sending prices up and quality down. Broccoli and cauliflower, which are also grown in that area, are affected, though not as severely.

* Elegant Lady peaches are just about done, but now it's time for another favorite variety--the O'Henry. O'Henrys have a juicy, buttery texture and rich flavor, though they lack some of the sparkle of the Elegant Ladys (which, on the other hand, are a tad dry in texture). Supplies look good, so peach prices should continue to be reasonable.

IN THE GROWERS MARKET

* At the Friday afternoon Growers Market along the old town square in Monrovia, Jerry Schletewitz, from Sanger, has thin, sweet Italian peppers as well as jalapenos, serranos and Floral Gems; yellow pear, cherry, Better Boy and Early Girl tomatoes and O'Henry peaches; and Sharlynn, casaba, cantaloupe and three varieties of watermelon. The Santa Clara Ranch from Fillmore has both white and pink grapefruit, avocados and Valencia oranges. Walker Farms in Visalia has tiny, sweet French sugar plums (also called "prune plums"), Asian pears and Golden Delicious apples. Bonilla Farms from Selma has round Italian eggplant, more Santa Rosa plums, Canary melons and O'Henry peaches.

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