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AT THE MARKET : Blood Oranges Starting to Crack the California Citrus Market : Santa Paula grower took a chance on the flavorful, aromatic fruit that is beginning to garner attention in this country.

March 30, 1995|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fruit lover's quiz: What has a memorable raspberry flavor, mottled or purple-hued flesh and aromatic juice?

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Bzzzzzzz.

Given the commercial obscurity of this delectable fruit in the United States, you probably didn't guess the answer: blood orange.

This unique citrus variety is wildly popular in parts of Europe--namely Spain and Italy--but it is just now beginning to garner mainstream attention in this country.

"The word is just starting to get around," said Santa Paula grower Mike Shore. "They are becoming more and more popular and sales are increasing."

When Shore began experimenting with blood oranges 10 years ago, he was one of only a handful of growers nationwide willing to give the unknown commodity a try. Today, 2 1/2 acres of his Timber Canyon Ranch are devoted to the blood orange and his agricultural experiment is looking bright.

Farmers across California are increasing their blood orange acreage. Sunkist--the Goliath of the citrus industry--has recently jumped on the bandwagon and is now packing and marketing the fruit, Shore said.

Stacked on the grocer's shelf, the blood orange is mostly unassuming. Its outer appearance looks, well, like an orange, but it is somewhat diminutive compared to its larger cousins, the navel and Valencia.

Slice it open, however, and all comparisons end. Two sensory responses will hit you immediately. First the color: Calling it the "blood" orange was no mistake. Next, the smell: A spicy blend of rich citrus and hints of berry are sure to please. The flesh is mostly seed-free and juicy and uniquely flavored.

"They have a distinct flavor all their own, which is unlike any other orange," said Shore, who expects to be harvesting his oranges through May.

Though prices can vary greatly depending on availability and quality, blood oranges are selling at local upscale grocery stores for about $1.80 a pound. Shore is offering fruit from his trees at the bargain price of 50 cents a pound at three area farmers' markets. Catch him at the Ventura (Saturday and Wednesday) and Thousand Oaks (Thursday) outlets.

A bonus: The rich hue of the blood orange can be an aesthetic wonder when added to fresh fruit mixes and salads or used as a garnish.

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For regular attendees of the Thousand Oaks farmers' market, the ever-popular weekly bazaar must seem as though it's becoming a mobile outlet.

The market is moving in early May--for the second time in less than a year and the third time since opening in May, 1991.

The move is "unexpected," said market manager Karen Wetzel. The market is forced to move because Village Square Shopping Center is expanding into the parking lot, Wetzel said. The market will continue to set up shop through the end of April.

Wetzel met with Thousand Oaks city planners on Tuesday to discuss possible new locations for the market, which attracts about 50 growers and 1,500 to 3,000 shoppers each week. A new site is close to being chosen, said Wetzel, who declined to add specifics until the deal is finalized.

Wetzel is optimistic that when the time comes to pack, the market will continue without any off-weeks. "We want to have all of our moving and permitting procedures completed by the end of April so we can move to a new site the following week without delaying the market," she said.

Stay tuned for future developments.

Market maven Rodney Bosch contributes a bimonthly column to Ventura County Life. You can write to him at 5200 Valentine Road, Suite 140, Ventura 93003, or send faxes to 658-5576.

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