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What's In Season at the Farmers Markets: Prickly Pears, Grapes, and Pluots

Heirloom tomatoes at South Pasadena Farmers Market
Heirloom tomatoes at South Pasadena Farmers Market
Felicia Friesema

As summer begins to wind down (it's mid-August already?), the market tables become a metaphorical sunset of yellows, oranges, pinks, and reds. The most obvious are the piles of corn, peaches, and tomatoes--glut crops that are summertime's real flavor bombs (everywhere should be so lucky). But there are a few cartons and baskets of things that deserve a second look while you're picking up heirlooms for your Caprese salad.

Prickly pears are a super seedy and short-lived fruit crop that California natives might remember from their juicy, pink-stained childhood summers. The interior fruit flesh is a vivid rosy color reminiscent of a dense and grainy watermelon. The profusion of tiny pebble-like seeds makes it a tricky fruit to navigate with dignity.

But chances are you'll enjoy eating the flesh and spitting the seeds as much now as you might have when you were a kid. If not, gently peel off the leathery outer skin with a sharp knife, lightly cook the fruit pulp down with a little water, strain it, add minimal simple syrup, and freeze into an intensely refreshing summer granita.

Grapes drape themselves over tabletops just asking to be lifted up and admired like a piece of fine silken fabric. The nearly black Fantasy and Kyoho grapes are still around and plentiful.

Concords will be showing up very soon (Mmmmm grape pie). Standard seedless table grapes (red flames and the ubiquitous Thompsons) are beginning to edge out summer stone fruit and will continue to do so for the rest of the month. Look for muscats and champagne grapes as we get closer to Labor Day. To pick ripe and fresh grapes, look for sturdy green stems that have a blush or freckling to them.

We've lost track of how many plum-apricot crosses there are

(pluots or apriums depending on the genetic ratio or the parent stocks). The varieties come and go but they all seem to share a common characteristic - they're just plain tasty. The balances of acidity and sugars will vary wildly from cross to cross, but the Flavor Grenades pictured here are thick, sweet, and rich with green plum flavor. Their complexity blossoms when lightly grilled and are a great accompaniment to a strong bleu cheese.

Saturday markets:

Pasadena Farmers Market, Victory Park, North Sierra Madre Boulevard and Paloma Street, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Torrance Farmers Market, Wilson Park, 2200 Crenshaw Blvd., 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Old Town Calabasas Farmers Market, 23504 Calabasas Rd., 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Long Beach Saturday Market (East Village), 400 East 1st Street, on 1st Between Elm and Linden, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Felicia Friesema also writes More, please.


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