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AT THE MARKET

'Rich Man's Fruit' at the Right Price : Exotic cherimoya, fresh from a Goleta ranch, are a good buy at Oxnard Farmers' Market.

March 02, 1995|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine what the price of a single orange might be if growers had to painstakingly hand-pollinate each of the dainty, fruit-bearing blossoms that abound on each tree.

In a word: astronomical. Suffice to say, the orange business would not have evolved into the mega-industry that it is today. And maybe the masses would be drinking carrot juice with that morning bowl of cereal. Luckily there is the indefatigable bee.

For the U.S. cherimoya grower, though, there is no flying savior to carry pollen from bloom to bloom. The arduous process of hand-pollination is the only method employed by growers to make certain there will be a crop to pick come harvest time.

This intensive, time-consuming task is reflected at the checkout stand. A single cherimoya can sell from $3.99 to as much as $7 a pound. At these prices, don't expect your grocer to offer "fresh squeezed" cherimoya juice any time soon.

"The 'rich man's fruit' is what they call it" said grower George Wilson, who maintains about 40 acres of cherimoya trees at his Dos Pueblos Ranch in Goleta. Wilson's fruit is available at the Oxnard Farmers' Market, which just may be your best bet for acquiring this exotic looking fruit--inexpensively.

"We're heading into the peak season and right now the people can get a good deal," said Wilson, who is selling some of his fruit for as little as $1 a pound. What you'll get is good quality fruit that didn't make the cut for the more lucrative export and domestic markets, which, Wilson said, demands flawless a product. Instead you'll be purchasing "Grade 2" fruit.

"There's nothing wrong with the fruit that would hamper the taste--it's just cosmetics," he said. That exotic blend of creamy papaya, pineapple and banana flavors are not compromised by a couple of nicks or small blemishes in the skin.

When purchasing cherimoyas, look for uniform color, generally a pale green. A little bit of browning in the skin is OK. But stay clear of any fruit showing dark brown splotches. That indicates the fruit is too far gone.

A cherimoya is ready to devour when it has achieved about the same texture as a ready-to-eat avocado--soft but firm, Wilson said. And when it's ready, don't hesitate. A very brief shelf life demands you eat it right away.

Pare the faceted, scale-like skin and remove the large, dark seeds from the juicy meat. Cube and add to fruit salads and other preparations that call for fresh fruit. Wilson suggested adding pineapple pieces to a bowlful of cherimoya chunks, then pour orange juice over the top.

The cherimoya is most easily enjoyed by simply slicing it in half "and just spooning it out of the skin," Wilson said.

*

The winds of change, stiff and cold at first, became a fresh breeze for merchants at the Oxnard Farmers' Market.

After getting the boot recently from its old location at 7th and B streets--a new condo project will be erected on the empty lot--the bazaar has benefited greatly from its new site at Plaza Park.

"We have gotten so many new customers because of the higher visibility," said Ruth Bernstein, who has managed the Thursday market since it began on June 13, 1991. "It's been much busier than it was at the old location."

Bernstein has cause for enthusiasm. The market didn't always enjoy the bustling foot traffic that it is has experienced since the January move.

"We've had some lean times getting established," she said.

Even though the winter months are traditionally a slow period for farmers' markets, Bernstein said that since moving, "we've had higher sales than any previous year."

GARDEN TOPICS

What follows is the first of frequent installments offering general gardening tips and updates. We're tapping the knowledge of local nursery and gardening experts to keep you apprised of a plethora of seasonal odds and ends.

Keep an eye out for suggestions such as when to plant garden favorites that do well in Ventura County's diverse climate zones, when and how to prune your shrubs, when to sow seeds in the vegetable garden, tips on transplanting and fertilizing, and more.

First up: As spring draws nearer, the best advice for any gardener is to "get out there and get your hands dirty," said Alice Lee of Phil Lee Nursery in Moorpark. It's "spring preparation time," she said. The coming weeks provide the optimum window of opportunity to prepare garden beds for spring color or to plant any number of vegetables.

"This is the best time of the year to plant just about anything," she said. With the soil still moist from rainy weather, you should have no problem working the beds. And the plants will have a better chance of getting established before the onslaught of warm weather.

Lee said we are entering that "in between color" time when the hues of winter annuals will soon begin to fade and wither. These can be replaced with such springtime notables as pansies, petunias and snapdragons. You'll have no problem finding these varieties at area nurseries, which have stocked up for the rush.

Details

* FARMERS' MARKET: Currently, about 21 vendors attend the Oxnard Farmers' Market, which is held Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Plaza Park, 5th and B streets.

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