Z: Reuben felt we should skip going to a farmers' market in December because we wouldn't find much there. Was he surprised! Not only did we find an abundance of produce, but there were also numerous unusual items.
R: Like the Hand of Buddha. I would have bought one but the vendor was sold out well before we got there. We found out that the vendor, who also had longan and wampei, sold out his wares very quickly that morning. There was even a line of people waiting for him when he arrived to set up his stand. Apparently this is a weekly ritual.
Z: From those exotic names you could surmise there were many Asian items at this market which is centered in a neighborhood that has a large Asian population. Doughnut-shaped is the best way to describe the configuration of vendors' stands forming an inside and outside ring in a large parking lot behind the Main Street shopping center.
R: Of course, there were all kinds of Asian vegetables like yam leaves, bok choy, winter melon, and Chinese okra, but there were also many items we find familiar. One of the first things we noticed were the bright red poinsettias. The same vendor had pansies, begonias, azaleas, and small rose bushes.
Z: The highlight of the display were the Sambac jasmine plants. What an exquisite fragrance! The Bloomfield Nursery in Cerritos also had red and white poinsettias for reasonable prices like 2 for $8 for the medium size pots and 2 for $10 for the larger ones.
R: Harry Nicholas from Orange Cove near Fresno offered some unique lemons he calls Sweet Lamb. They look just like lemons but the sample he offered us brought an unexpected surprise. These lemons have the sweetness of an orange. On his 110 acre farm he also grows grapes and Shinco, an Asian apple-pear. This one was the sweetest I've ever tasted and had an exceptional crispness.
Z: The Briar Patch Farm from Kingsburg also had the Asian apple-pears they called Shenseiki, and they were just as delicious. They were also selling Fuji apples. We had to stop, taste, and buy their last two watermelon radishes which were the size of a small grapefruit. Unique in appearance, they were pale green on the outside with a brilliant red core gradually becoming white, just like a watermelon.
R: Alex Causey of Briar Patch told us that he grows a number of exotic oriental vegetables including red long beans. One of the old-timers, he's been coming to the market since it opened 15 years ago.
Z: One of the high spots for me was New Hope Farms from Riverside. Their produce was beautiful and certified organic. The lettuces: red oak, romaine, and butter could barely fit into the plastic bags. I had a field day picking out arrugala, Swiss chard, collards, and mustard greens. I always look forward to this season when we can enjoy the flavors of fresh root vegetables. Naturally, I had to buy some rutabagas, turnips, and the largest head of Napa cabbage I had ever seen. I think we made Sam Tsuchida's day when we complimented him on the beautiful kabocha, butternut, and spaghetti squashes.
R: We came back later because we forgot potatoes. They had white rose and red russet, but we chose our favorite, Yukon gold.
Z: There were a few vendors with citrus. Walker Farms from Tulare County offered giant Pomelo grapefruit and Satsuma Mandarin tangerines. The Gless Ranch from Woodcrest had bags of lemons, oranges, and grapefruit at unbelievably reasonable prices. An 8 lb. bag of pink grapefruit was $1.50 and a 5 lb. bag of navel oranges was $1.50. Exceptional buys.
R: By the time we got around to making our purchase, Gless Ranch had sold out their oranges. They had only one 20 lb. bag of grapefruit left for $3. Everybody we know is eating grapefruit this week.
Z: Lee's Orchids had some unusual plants that caught my attention. One had a fragrance that we could smell from a foot away. Thomas Lee told us he cultivates 30,000 orchids in his greenhouse. The business began as a hobby originally and then it really "blossomed."
R: I thought I was the punster in the family. The high spot for me was finding Japanese sweet potatoes at Fetzner Farms from Perris. That's the variety of sweet potato that has a chestnut-like texture and taste. They're quite large and take about 1 1/2 hours to bake, but the flavor reward is worth the wait. The also had butternut, kabocha, and Tahitian squashes in abundance.
Z: The Top Veg people from Carson brought their usual large selection of vegetables. What called to me were the giant parsnips, the eggplant, and the candy striped beets that seemed to accompany me home.
R: While you were selecting those beets, I noticed Triple J's Farm that sold eggs. They displayed an emu egg that was the size of a small cantaloupe and was priced at $15. When I looked back a few minutes later, it was sold.
Z: I didn't expect to find strawberries this time of year, but the J & J Farm from Santa Maria had some for sale. We also don't find kiwis at farmers' markets, but Knight's Sunny Heights Ranch had small bags for $1.
R: Persimmons, both Fuyu and Hachiya, were available at more than one place. Lester Farms from Fresno had both varieties along with pomelos, tangerines, oranges, and sweet lemons. From the huge displays of bagged oranges and grapefruit and the aromas that surrounded us, we knew we were in the thrust of citrus season. We noticed they also sold pink guavas. We brought a few of those home, too.
Z: I wanted to buy some Lucky Bamboo to give as gifts and was hoping I would find someone selling it at this market. Sure enough, one vendor had an attractive display and offered a variety of sizes from 3" to 18." I chose an appealing cluster of three stalks. What also called to me was the beautiful display of bonsai plants form Haankuk Bonsai. The nandina, pomegranate, and bougainvillea were unique, but the ficus was unforgettable. It was large, had an old knarled trunk, and displayed branches that twisted this way and that.
R: The people from Sequoia Orchards in Squaw Valley had their portabella, crimini, and oyster mushrooms as well as their pure pasteurized apple juice. They were anxious to tell us they had been coming to this market for 10 years.
Z: When we spoke to market manager LizAnne Keigley, we learned that 75% of the farmers have been participating in this market for 10 years or more. The market, founded in 1984, has 41 farmers and 7 food vendors, a successful recent addition.
R: She's a city employee and this is a city-run farmers' market. LizAnne and the City of Alhambra put forth a great effort to build a family feeling. We didn't have to look very hard to notice there were more children at this market than any of the others. On this morning they had a Santa Claus and offered polaroid pictures for $2, or people could snap their own photo for free. Zel wanted to sit on Santa's lap and have her picture snapped, but I discouraged her. What would the folks back home say?
Z: Party Pooper! Next to Santa's booth was a craft area. Four tables were set up for the kids to cut out felt decorations and work with colored markers and squeeze paint to embellish their designs. This area, too, was filled with parents and children working together and enjoying a fun craft project.
R: LizAnne was proud to tell us about some of their past events like the Turkey Gobbling Contest with 24 entrants from 1 1/2 to 12 year olds and the pumpkin patch where they sold pumpkins for $.50.
Z: As usual, this farmers' market provided a learning experience for us. It exceeded our expectations, and we were able to go home loaded down with bags of farm-fresh produce.
Alhambra Farmers' Market
Reviewed January 2000