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Laguna Beach: Purple Queen beans, Pink Lady apples, satsuma mandarins

At hand are late apples (worth the wait) and early mandarins (getting sweeter by the week). And check out these colorful beans.

November 18, 2009|By David Karp
  • Purple Queen beans grown by J.R. Organic Farms in Escondido, at the Laguna Beach farmers market. Keep clicking to see other fruit and produce sold at the market.
Purple Queen beans grown by J.R. Organic Farms in Escondido, at the Laguna… (David Karp / For The Times )

The Laguna Beach farmers market, held in a city parking lot below a huge bluff, has remained a stable, successful venue for the past decade. It features about 20 produce vendors, including three Orange County vegetable growers, Smith Farms and two branches of the Berumen family.

The best display belongs to Amado Rodriguez of J.R. Organics, from Escondido, who offers a wide range of freshly picked vegetables, including pristine Sebring gold zucchini, and unusual Purple Queen beans, which are dark purple, almost black, on the outside, and green inside. The beans' color fades to dark green with cooking, even if they are roasted rather than steamed, but the flavor is excellent. The farm, which brings dazzling bouquets of dried red Thai chiles and multicolored ristras, also sells at the Manhattan Beach, Mar Vista, and Santa Monica (Virginia Park) markets and offers a community-supported agriculture program.

In the last week Ha's Apple Farm of Tehachapi has added Pink Lady apples to its extensive lineup. This is the last major commercial variety to ripen, and worth the wait, with firm, juicy, crisp flesh, high in both sweetness and acidity, giving it an intensity of flavor missing in most modern varieties; it lacks only complexity to compare with the best heirlooms. It stores like a rock, especially in controlled atmosphere conditions, and so keeps crunchy up to a year.

The variety's formal name is Cripps Pink, after John Cripps, a breeder in Western Australia who created it in the 1970s by crossing Golden Delicious and Lady Williams. "Pink Lady" is its marketing name, legally restricted to fruit grown by valid licensees that meets quality standards for flavor and appearance. Part of the strategy of the rights holders is that while the Cripps Pink plant patent expires next October, the Pink Lady trademark continues indefinitely. The trademark owners focus their enforcement efforts on commercial trade, however, and so virtually all farmers market vendors sell the variety as Pink Lady.

Tilden Farms brings satsuma mandarins grown by Sierra Land Group in Pauma Valley. As is common with many crops, the first satsumas showing up a few weeks ago were pale yellow tinged with green, and a bit tart; but they're getting better each week, and will be at peak quality by Thanksgiving.

Satsumas seem like purebred mandarins, but recent scientific analyses of genetic markers have shown that they probably also have some sweet orange in their ancestry. Originating in China, they arrived in Japan between the 6th and the 15th centuries, and became one of that nation's signature fruits by the 1870s, when they were brought to California and Florida.

Satsumas are popular because they're seedless (their pollen is sterile) and easy to peel, with tender, aromatic flesh, and because they're the first mandarins of the season. From the grower's standpoint, satsuma trees are relatively cold-hardy, and the fruits usually come off before freezes strike, so they're well suited to areas where freezes cause problems for citrus. Ripe satsumas have a good balance of sweetness and acidity but are not typically quite as rich in flavor as the best other mandarins and mandarin hybrids later in the season.

Laguna Beach farmers market, Lumberyard parking lot, Forest and Ocean avenues, Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon.

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