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Front Burner | Farmers Markets

Taking Up the El Toro Challenge

January 30, 2002|DAVID KARP | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Saddleback Valley Plaza looked for a manager to launch a farmers market in El Toro last summer, Sandy Heil took up the challenge. For seven years she had helped her husband, Rick, with farmers markets in Corona del Mar and San Clemente, and her children were old enough so that she had the time. Last Thursday, as her market finished its sixth month of operation, she had only one complaint: Rick "has never even come by once to visit," she said with a smile.

The market is small and features mostly farm employees, not the farmers themselves, but Escondido grower Barbara Chapman is a notable exception. She offered ruffled kaffir limes (the trees are mostly valued for their leaves, but the rind and juice of the fruits are also used in Southeast Asian cooking); Palestine sweet limes; tutti-frutti-flavored Cara Cara pink-fleshed navel oranges; and Vaniglia Sanguigno ("Vanilla Blood") acidless oranges, with light-pink pulp and a mild flavor reminiscent of an orange Creamsicle. She also sold her own homemade preserves, including yellow Conadria fig jam and fabulous Persian mulberry syrup--great on vanilla ice cream.

Among local growers, Smith Farms had fresh Brussels sprouts, sugar snap and English peas, celery, asparagus and artichokes. Tanaka Farms of Irvine displayed beets, carrots, cauliflower and butternut squash. Alfredo Barrios, selling for his nephew, Javier Berumen of Westminster, had slender, tender "second-sprout" broccoli, along with cauliflower, leeks and cabbage.

From Fallbrook, Eli Hofshi's stand brought arugula, collard greens and chard, Booth cherimoyas and four varieties of fine avocados: Pinkerton, Hass, Bacon and Fuerte. Hector Ramos of Carlsbad sold large, firm and bright red Camarosa strawberries, with decent flavor for January berries.

El Toro farmers market, Saddleback Valley Plaza, El Toro Road at Rockfield Boulevard, Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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