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A Class in Freshness 101

April 04, 2001|DAVID KARP

The Westwood farmers market offers a solid lineup of produce vendors, along with a profusion of prepared foods and crafts stalls. It usually bustles with UCLA students and tourists and was especially lively last Thursday, during spring break.

Gufur Kahmeim, who calls his sprout operation Roots Brothers Grows, touted the health benefits of his "living food': growing containers of organic pea, broccoli, daikon and sunflower sprouts from a greenhouse in his Van Nuys backyard. Culinary Farms of Reseda had pristine salad greens (mesclun, arugula, spinach and spicy mix) and colorful edible flowers, including mild pansies and peppery snapdragons. Smith Farms of Orange County sold organic artichokes, beets, leeks and a plethora of peas-snow, sugar snap and English-the last a sweet treat well worth the toil of shelling.

From Carlsbad, the Valdivia farm brought fava beans, baby zucchini with their blossoms, tomatoes and Blue Lake green beans. The Kelomar stand offered fine asparagus grown west of the Salton Sea. Joe Moua of Fresno sold fresh stalks of lemongrass, pea shoots, spinach, baby bok choy and Shanghai bok choy, a tender cousin.

David Eakin of Lake Matthews, resplendent in pith helmet, had intensely flavorful Washington navel oranges, classic Dancy tangerines and tangy Minneola tangelos. Bob Polito of Valley Center brought three distinctive citrus varieties from UC Riverside's breeding program: large, pebbly "Primavera" mandarins (actually an experimental hybrid of Temple, Dancy and Encore, to be formally introduced and named in June); seedless Gold Nugget mandarins, the most recent release; and sweet, flavorful Oroblancos, a much under-appreciated cross of pummelo and white grapefruit.

'Progress" in strawberries has brought mixed results: although berries now abound year-round, shoppers often search in vain for really good ones. McGrath Farms' organic Chandlers from Camarillo were the best at the Westwood market, sweeter and softer than the ubiquitous, indestructible Camarosas. Alas, the supremely aromatic and juicy strawberries of 40 or 50 years ago, such as Marshall and Banner, have vanished. As for many fruits, a version of Gresham's Law rules: Tough, disease-resistant varieties drive out exquisite but tender ones.

*

Westwood farmers market, Weyburn Avenue between Westwood Boulevard and Tiverton Avenue, Thursdays, 2 to 7 p.m.

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