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The Taroccos and Melogolds of Encino

February 14, 2001|DAVID KARP

Midwinter is a slow time for farmers markets, but top venues such as Encino always have an exciting variety of produce, including items rarely available at stores.

On Sunday, Delana Fife of Visalia had gorgeous Tarocco blood oranges with sweet, tender flesh that look like striated Italian marble. Taroccos are hardly grown in California because they're not as dark as the standard Moros, but Italian connoisseurs won't touch a Moro when Taroccos are to be found. Fife also carried Oroblancos and Melogolds, superb white-fleshed grapefruit-pummelo hybrids, and pink-fleshed Chandler pummelos, at peak now.

Along with his own tangy-sweet Minneola tangelos, Gene Etheridge of Dinuba brought the last batch of Sarawak pummelos from Ignacio Sanchez of Reedley. With juicy, greenish flesh and an intense lemon-lime flavor, the Sarawak (a.k.a. Tahitian grapefruit) is one of the least known and best-tasting citrus rarities in California. Etheridge also had sliced Fuyu and whole Hachiya dried persimmons. The Vista Del Mundo stand, from Santa Barbara, offered bumpy cherimoyas, deliciously custardy when ripe, along with Hass and Fuerte avocados.

Ever wonder where farmers market stands are getting piles of supposedly field-grown tomatoes in February? In many cases, such vendors deserve a wary scrutiny. The Valdivia stand tomatoes, such as those sold at Encino, are legitimate: As seen on a recent visit, green vines bearing red tomatoes are indeed growing in their fields in Carlsbad. McGrath Farms of Camarillo sold tender fresh broccoli, and tiny, exquisitely sweet peas, just shelled. From Santa Maria, Luis Guevara's attractive display included sweet Mokum carrots, celery, red and green cabbage, spinach and Brussels sprouts.

Maggie's Farm of Tarzana offered lemony sorrel and anise-flavored chervil, along with mild mache and peppery arugula flowers, which go together nicely in salads. The Underwood Ranch of Moorpark featured artichokes, beets, fennel, chard and star-quality cauliflower: According to two shoppers at the last market, a giant specimen, bedecked with a wig and glasses, played the title role in a film entitled "Einstein's Brain," made by their daughter for a physics class at a local high school.

Encino farmers market, 17400 Victory Blvd. between Balboa Boulevard and White Oak Avenue, Sundays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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