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Fuzzy on Quince

October 18, 2000|DAVID KARP

When James Evkhanian set out his quince last Saturday at the Burbank farmers market, some shoppers were puzzled by the fuzzy, fragrant yellow fruit. He would explain that they're related to apples and pears, and when you cook them, they turn pink and have a taste that is almost spicy.

For Evkhanian, as for many of his customers, quince are part of his heritage. Born to Armenian parents in the crumbling Ottoman Empire, he remembers how his mother fed him quince as a child.

One night in 1923, when he was 6, his family fled the country and a missionary helped them secure passage to America. James prospered as an Oriental rug merchant in Pasadena, but always hankered to grow quince. Twenty years ago, he planted 500 trees, mostly of the Pineapple variety, on his property in Newberry Springs, in the high desert near Barstow.

He and his wife, Phyllis, sell only at the Burbank market. Last Saturday, they also had gorgeous Wonderful variety pomegranates, some with branches and leaves, some so ripe that they were starting to split open. There was plenty of other autumnal bounty at the market.

Lorraine Tenerelli of Littlerock sold Yali Asian pears, a Chinese variety that looks like a Bartlett. From big commercial producers, they're often bland and boring, but these were crunchy, juicy and sweet, with an engaging sprightliness. The Ronald Wilkins stand, from Earlimart in the San Joaquin Valley, had crisp, sugary Crimson Seedless grapes and flavorful Italia seeded Muscats, along with meaty Flame raisins.

Jicama usually doesn't do well in California, because of unsuitable climate and pest problems, but Charles Xiong of Fresno managed to grow some of the succulent tubers, which he sold along with another rarity: freshly harvested peanuts, still moist from the earth, with a texture almost like that of water chestnuts. He also sold a slew of Asian veggies: Japanese and Chinese eggplants; purple and green long beans; Shanghai bok choi; and okra, yam and bitter melon greens--yes, bitter melon leaves do taste like bitter melon.

Burbank farmers market, Olive Avenue between Glen Oaks Boulevard and 3rd Street, Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

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