Spring has arrived at our farmers’ markets, and many seasonal vegetables are beginning to peak. Here’s a quick look at some springtime treats that you’ll see for just a short time at the markets:
“The real sign that spring has come is when the fava beans show up,” said Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Supervisor Laura Avery. “They’re a traditional favorite, especially in Italy – they go nuts when the fava beans come.” At our farmers’ markets, some farmers already have the beans while others have only the tendrils for now and will soon be bringing the beans. “Not too many people know about the tendrils; they just wait for the beans. But chefs are buying lots of tendrils,” said Carter Clary of McGrath Family Farms in Camarillo. “I’m not the best cook, so I just eat the tendrils raw. They taste just like the beans and they make a good snack while I’m working out in the field,” he said.
Spring onions and garlic
These are simply onions and garlic that are pulled out of the ground at a young stage, when their tops are still green and the bulbs are fresh, tender, juicy and flavorful. Spring garlic look like scallions, with green tops and slender, white bulbs that haven’t yet matured into the garlic heads we’re used to seeing. They have very fragrant roots, which some chefs like to use in their dishes. “Green garlic is exquisite; the flavor is subtle, not as strong as [regular] garlic, said Adina Rimmon of Schaner Farms. “At this time of year, I use spring onions and spring garlic in all my soups. They add such richness and flavor that I don’t need to use broth.”
This classic spring vegetable is popular at the markets. “We have them only from March til around June; it’s a short season,” said Jessica Acevedo of Zuckerman Farms in Stockton. At this week’s Wednesday market Acevedo had thin, ultra thin, regular size, and jumbo asparagus. She also had the year’s first batch of purple asparagus, which sell out quickly and will be available for about 5 more weeks. This year she won’t have any white asparagus, due to weather conditions.
When choosing asparagus, look for stalks that have a dark green color and closed, tight tips. Like flowers, asparagus stalks need water to stay fresh, so avoid stalks that are dried out, brown or yellow at the bottom. “Usually, the thicker the stalks, the more meat, flavor and sweetness they’ll have. People think the thicker ones aren’t as tender, but they really are,” said Acevedo, who says asparagus is also very good eaten raw.
It’s been a good year for artichokes, said Victoria Sarquilla of Life’s A Choke Farms in Los Osos and Lompoc. She sells a variety called Lyon, which grows huge, thanks to the sandy soil and ocean breeze in Lompoc. She also has green and purple baby artichokes, which she says have a stronger artichoke flavor than the bigger ones. To prepare baby artichokes, trim the tough tops and bottoms and peel the outer leaves until there are only tender leaves. Steam for 15 to 20 minutes and eat them whole, said Sarquilla. She estimates the artichokes should be available through the end of summer.
The year’s first batch of English peas from Tutti Frutti Certified Organic Farms arrived at the farmers’ markets this week and was snapped up in 20 minutes by local chefs, said Tutti Frutti’s Barbara Whyman at the Wednesday market. “It’s our most popular pea; people like their strong pea flavor,” she said. English peas need to be shelled; many farmers are also bringing sugar snap peas and snow peas, which have edible pods. Tutti Frutti’s fresh peas should be in season through May or June, said Whyman. Pea tendrils are also sold by a few farmers.
Lilacs and cherry blossoms
Some farmers are bringing in spring flowers along with their vegetables. Walk past a container of lilacs and you’ll be seduced by their heady fragrance and colorful blossoms. Tall stems of pussy willows also make an appearance this time of year, and cherry blossoms and plum blossoms, still on the branch, hold the promise of early summer fruit still to come.
Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets
Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Arizona Avenue and Second Street
Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Arizona Avenue and Third Street
Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Virgina Avenue Park
Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 2640 Main Street