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FARMERS MARKET

Eggplants, basil plants, a summer extravaganza

August 01, 2007|Russ Parsons | Times Staff Writer

Eggplants: Is the specialty eggplant this year's heirloom tomato? It's been coming for a while, but this summer, the variety of eggplants at farmers markets is astonishing. At the Santa Monica market recently, there were at least 10 types of eggplant for sale -- Peacock Farm had more than half a dozen. There was a long white, a round white, long lavender Japanese, long black Chinese, a couple of round black and a couple of speckled ones. The main difference in the varieties is texture. Eggplant can be firm, even slightly stringy, or it can be creamy. This can be hard to predict, though generally the familiar black globe eggplants are the most fibrous. Ask your farmer. By the way, you don't need to salt eggplant unless you're planning to fry it. And don't keep it in the refrigerator too long -- odd as it may seem, eggplant is a tropical fruit and suffers chill damage very quickly.

Various vendors, $2 per pound.

Basil plants: Sure, you can find fresh basil at almost any grocery store, but that's just one variety, frequently in indifferent condition and usually at $2 for half a dozen leaves. The best plan is to plant your own. Basil is incredibly easy to grow, either in the garden or in a pot, and there is an amazing variety available. Barbara Spencer of Windrose Farm offers as many as 10 kinds at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Even her plainest basil, the familiar Genovese, is special -- grown from seeds brought in from Italy, the leaves are more finely textured than commercial basil and better for making pesto. Plant a 4-inch pot and in a couple of weeks you'll have a plant that's big enough to keep you in basil all summer. If you're in a hurry, go for the 10-inch pot, which is ready to start harvesting immediately.

Peaking

Last chance

Windrose Farm, $3 for 4-inch a pot, $8 for a 10-inch pot.

Just in

Figs: There was a trickle of figs in farmers markets a month or so ago, but now it's getting ready to become a flood. Unlike most fruits, which are harvested all at once, fig trees bear two crops every summer. The first, called the breba harvest, comes on branches from the previous year's growth. The main harvest, which is starting now, comes on new growth. Over the last five years, fresh figs have gone from being a relative rarity in the markets to being commonplace. The most common varieties are Brown Turkey and Black Mission. These are good figs, but keep an eye out for pale green Adriatic and harlequin-striped Panachée.

Various vendors, $4 per pint.

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russ.parsons@latimes.com

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