Farmer Bill Coleman of Coleman Family Farm in Carpenteria has a market stall that partly resembles an arboretum, partly a secret garden on display. This morning at the Wednesday Santa Monica farmers market, where Coleman parks his truck and his greenery and his family almost every single week, the tables were loaded with Portuguese kale (also called couve, according to a hand-written sign); gorgeous purple amaranth; Mizuna; Scot's and Russian Kale; Persian mint and fresh bay leaves. And that's only the beginning: if you were to give a catalog of all the greenery, you'd have a blog post that Henry James could have written, which, sadly, this is not.
Today, perched atop the upper make-shift shelf, were bunches of shiso, both the Korean and Japanese variety. When asked the difference, Coleman was characteristically terse. "Taste them." Right. The larger Korean variety is sturdier, stronger in taste, used--elaborated Coleman only after the herb had been eaten--for pickling umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums) and for folding into wraps, around Vulcan lettuce and bits of raw fish or meat. The more delicate Japanese shiso, which is most commonly used in sushi preparations, is smaller and subtler. Coleman says that shiso is seasonal, "just like basil," and that it'll be available for a few more months, probably until October or November.
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Right now Coleman also has shishito peppers, the green mild-ish Japanese peppers that you can often (hopefully; they're awesome) find roasted and salted at sushi and tapas restaurants. They just started. "Last week we had a little bit," said Bill's son Romeo Coleman as he unloaded more boxes from the back of his dad's truck. "2-3 months more; if the weather gets warmer or bad, that'll shorten up."
Coleman Family Farm: At many Los Angeles area farmers markets, including both Santa Monica markets, and Santa Barbara. Korean and Japanese shiso, $1.50/bunch. Shishito peppers, $8/lb.