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IN SEASON

Sweet Peaches and Tall Raspberries

August 13, 1992|RUSS PARSONS

Do you dare to eat a peach? Do you dare not to? As fast as this season has been pushing along, peaches may not be around for long. O'Henrys are at the top of their supply right now, with incidental amounts of Red Cals, Cal Reds, August Suns and Fairtimes. There are a few late-season varieties, but for the most part the harvest will be over by the end of the month.

* How good is the fall raspberry harvest in California this year? So good that one grower says her biggest worry is finding pickers tall enough to reach the top of the bushes. That's no joke. Pushed along by the warm, humid summer weather, these Monterey County raspberry bushes stand well over six feet tall.

While spring raspberries belong only to the Heritage variety, fall berries can be either Heritage or Willamettes. And the latter, though not as flavorful, is becoming more and more the bush of choice for commercial growers. It's simple economics: Raspberry bushes only last an average of five to six years and Heritages take a full year and a half to bear fruit while Willamettes are ready in nine months. On top of that, the Heritages take more care and are more expensive to grow.

It's difficult for the consumer to tell the two berries apart. In general, Willamette berries tend to be bigger and prettier than Heritages, though somewhat less flavorful.

* The harvest of summer Bartlett pears is well underway, with good quality and good supply from California north to Washington state.

The California pear harvest begins in the Sacramento River valley and then moves north to Lake County. After that comes Oregon's Medford and Hood River areas and then Washington state's Wenatchee and Yakima districts.

The number of pears shipped has increased at a rate of about 10% a year for the last several years, and this summer's bonanza is not likely to break that string. Prices should be reasonable, though it's rare for pear prices to rise and fall to the extremes that more perishable products (such as lettuce and berries) do. On the other hand, this year's Bartletts are coming into a market that is already glutted with fruit--including a good bit of last year's cold-storage pears.

In another week, harvesting will begin on winter pears--such as Anjou, Comice, Seckel and Bosc--though you probably won't see many in the stores for another month. Winter pears need to finish ripening in cold storage to reach top quality; that typically takes three to four weeks, depending on the variety. Harvesting of all pears should be done by the end of September, and the first winter pears should be in the stores by the first of October.

IN THE GROWERS MARKET

There can't be a nicer way to spend a weekday morning than wandering around the Wednesday Santa Monica growers market. At the largest and most varied of the area's markets (also the priciest), you can find everything from glistening Santa Barbara spot shrimp to baby zucchini with blossoms, from a dozen varieties of melon to wild mushrooms.

The highlights: The Aerie from Reedley has beautiful white Irish Harp and Irish Lilt peaches. Sea Breeze Organic farms in Del Mar has blush-pink French breakfast radishes, Nantes carrots and Genovese basil. David Mountain has shiitake , portobello , oyster, chanterelle, lobster and (hidden off to the side) porcini mushrooms. Coleman Farms in Carpinteria has an incredible array of herbs and greens, including epazote , summer savory, lemon verbena and three kinds of kale. They also have passion fruit and zapote . Dee's Seafood from Santa Barbara has the aforementioned shrimp, whole snapper, octopus, halibut and barracuda. C & G Produce from Lompoc ("the coldest place in California") has beautiful broccoli and cauliflower and a carful of asparagus. Sea Canyon Apples from San Luis Obispo has Gravenstein, Skinner Pippin, Jonathon, Jonagold, Macintosh and Northwestern Greening apples. Agri-Specialties of Oceano has baby zucchini (including some with flowers) and Sunburst squash, Amsterdam mini-carrots and haricots vert s. Sanders Organic from Bakersfield has cantaloupe, casaba, Sharlyn, honeydew, orange-flesh honeydew, Persian and Juan Canary melons.

Doesn't that sound better than going to the office?

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