R: We heard this was a large market, but I was surprised at how much produce was available in January, considering the recent frost. The market is held on a giant parking lot adjacent to the Charles H.Wilson Park, a beautiful, sprawling area with tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and an expansive area of lush green lawn. Everybody in the area seems to know it's there; it's a community gathering place. Even busy chefs shop here for their restaurant produce. At the entrance was the bustling Frontier Kettle Korn stand complete with a long line of eager customers.
Z: As we walked down the center aisle between two long rows of produce stands, I was really impressed with the number of growers offering flowers, everything from cut flowers to orchids. One stand featured only bonsai. Others specialized in herbs or small seedlings.
R: We talked to Angela Goldberg and Lisa from Skyline Flower Growers in Ventura County. They lost 40% of their flowers in the pre-Christmas frost, but still had an array of brightly colored flowers. We were both attracted by the ranunculas, and Zel had to smell the stalks of sweetly aromatic tuberoses.
Z: Of course, I had to smell them! I'd read about tuberoses in novels, but this was the first time I had actually seen their fragrant, white blossoms. This wasn't the only farm with frost problems. Most of the farmers from areas north of Los Angeles did not fare well. The citrus growers were hit hard. We talked to Daniel Kil from Rosendahl Farms in Fresno who lost his entire 2,200 acre orchard crop. Luckily he had picked a good quantity before the frost and had those available for sale. The farmers from areas south of L.A., like Corona, did much better.
R: Despite the December frost, the stands appeared to be abundantly heaped with a variety of citrus fruits. Vendors were displaying oranges, lemons, grapefruit, tangerines, mandarins, blood oranges and giant pomellos, those enormous grapefruits.
Z: And, lucky Reuben, the farmers had cut up samples for tasting, mostly citrus and apples.
R: Yes, lucky me. I got to enjoy two of my favorite apple varieties, Pink Lady and Fuji.
Z: I was impressed with the selection of vegetables like snow peas, snap peas, all types of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Russian kale, baby turnips and beets, kholrabi, lettuces of all varieties and colors, radiccio, three kinds of avocados, Chinese black radishes, giant red radishes, baby brussels sprouts, baby asparagus, and enormous artichokes.
R: I could have sworn those artichokes were inflated. Each was enough for two people.
Z: You'll soon see. I also couldn't resist the asparagus. We had to take some home.
R: You were also an easy sell on the red kobacha and the delicata squash. I'm surprised you resisted the others: hubbard, banana, spaghetti, and golden.
Z: I had to have those squashes for tomorrow's special dinner along with those cute little potatoes. We bought some baby Yukon golds and some purple Peruvians. After weighing them, the farmer tossed a few fingerlings into my bag as a bonus.
R: One farmer had six kinds of dried beans, most of which I had never seen before, like Amish kettle, mauve, Christmas limas, bead, black runner, and flor de junio. We'll soon know about the mauve and black runner beans Zel couldn't pass up.
Z: One eager customer had bought them before and was rhapsodizing on their exceptional flavor. I could almost taste the beans after she went into detail on how to prepare them. I was also impressed by the specialty stands of olives and pickled vegetables, dried fruits, various kinds of honey and beeswax candles, bags and bags of bagels, scones from fat-free to sugar-free, air ferns grown on baskets, shells and coral.
R: You were also interested in sprouts. There were two vendors who had all kinds of offerings including spreads made from sprouts. R and R Sprouts displayed some unique varieties like fenugreek, sesame, black sesame, kamut, broccoli, and soy bean sprouts.
Z: One farmer had daikon radish sprouts among her hydroponic vegetables that included mustard spinach and an attractive Japanese spinach that I added to my purchases along with the sprouts. Another vendor selling oriental vegetables had jars of kimchee for sale. If you were a kimchee aficionado, you could even buy a gallon-size jar. Looking for burdock? It was available in its whole form, shredded, or dried.
R: The market is not all produce. The Food Court had eight stands offering gourmet coffees, crepes and pancakes, gourmet sausages for your carnivorous acquaintances, omelettes, Mexican specialties, even a few items for us vegetarians.
Z. The Corn Maiden tamales were delicious. I had the corn and spinach, and Reuben enjoyed the green corn tamale.
R: We had an opportunity to talk to Mary Lou Weiss, the market manager. When the market started thirteen years ago it was only open on Tuesday. Saturday's market opened six years ago and is now more successful than Tuesday.
Z: Mary Lou has been manager for eight years. During that time she has been responsible for the growth of the market. On Saturdays 8,000 to 13,000 people come to shop, meet friends, and eat. Tuesdays average between 3,000 to 4, 000 people.
R: Tuesdays seem to bring out the older people. The senior citizens make up the volunteer group which is vital to the operation of the market. They write receipts, sell imprinted mugs, T- shirts, aprons, and shopping carts at the information table, and even fill in for busy farmers by selling produce.
Z: I was taken by their vitality. The youngest volunteer is 73, the oldest 87.
R: The market is sponsored by the City of Torrance and has 65 farmers participating. It's so popular there's even a waiting list to get in.
Z: They operate rain or shine, and customers show up rain or shine. Last year one woman came shopping in her el nino wet suit.
R: Mary Lou described her market as "the third largest and best in the county." She might be right on target.
Torrance Certified Farmers' Market, 2200 Crenshaw Boulevard
Reviewed February 1999