Z: I almost felt like I was back in high school when we pulled into the parking lot next to Pasadena High School. The sign on the school building said, "Home of the Bulldogs." As we pulled into the crowded parking lot, I noticed the rows of tables with awnings that shielded them from the hot sun.
R: Since this is the height of stone fruit season, we found all kinds of plums, peaches, and nectarines. All the stone fruit vendors had samples that had that sweet, delicious tree-ripened flavor. The difficulty for the customers was making choices with so many options.
Z: We should start with Triple B from Fresno. What a selection of stone fruits! They offered white and yellow peaches, white and yellow nectarines, and Black Beauty plums. Other fruits available were cantaloupes, watermelons, and red flame grapes. In addition to the regular eggplant, they sold the Chinese and Japanese varieties. Their vegetables included chiles, yellow and green string beans, cherry tomatoes, and red onions.
R: Anyone searching for special plums would look no farther than Rosendahl Farms from Fresno. They had the usual Santa Rosa type, but Dinosaur Egg, Elephant Heart, and Pluot (a cross between a plum and an apricot) made this booth a must stop. Their peach and nectarine selection included both white and yellow types of each. Beautiful cascading clusters of tiny Champagne grapes were available, as well as the Red Flame and the Thompson Seedless. When we identified ourselves as VIP, Sergio Ramirez wanted to tell us about the first-of-the-season Gala apples and give us samples of dried Donut Peaches and dried Sugar Peaches.
Z: They both could have been called Sugar Peach. Both were exceptionally sweet, as was the sample of their raisins that included red and green grapes dried to perfection. Other farmers joined the stone fruit parade with their offerings. Jess Swope from Fresno displayed peaches and plums along with red flame grapes and giant raisins. Verni from Clovis had white and yellow peaches and nectarines in addition to green and red grapes, almonds, raisins, along with 16-oz. bottles of extra virgin olive oil. Tenerelli Orchards from Littlerock featured June Lady Peaches and Red Diamond nectarines. Regier Farm from Dinuba just sold peaches at $1 a pound. Walker Farm from Exeter had a great selection of stone fruits with white peaches and nectarines and four kinds of plums: red, black, yellow, and Santa Rosa. They also featured two kinds of fresh figs and Thompson Seedless grapes.
R: We're so busy expounding about stone fruit, we didn't mention the music that pervades the market. We learned that musicians seem to show up and just begin to play. At the entrance there is Leo on his saxaphone, hitting a few occasional clinkers. On the other end of the market there is the blind Pepe, who sings in Spanish while accompanying himself on the guitar.
Z: We also heard Swami G who plays reggae on his steel drum each week. Dave, the fiddler, shows up occasionally to play all kinds of improvised selections. He wasn't playing that morning which might have been to our advantage. In the past some people have wanted to pay him not to play. Also not performing that day was the "kid (a ten-year-old boy) who plays the flute." He usually shows up when he needs money.
R: This musical selection adds to the spontaneous flavor of the market. There's a casual atmosphere to the market. Apparently, people come not only to shop but to visit with friends who live in the neighborhood. It's the only market we visited where coffee is not sold; it's given free at the manager's booth.
Z: As Gretchen Sterling, market manager, explained, "I laughed when I overheard a woman expressing to her husband, 'The job of assistant is to always be present.'" The assistants are the men who carry the bundles for their wives who do the serious shopping. "The coffee makes the men happy."
R: We'll come back to Gretchen shortly. Now on to the melons. Melons are abundant this month and were well represented at this market. The most unusual selection was displayed by Weiser Farms, a vendor that seems to be at a number of markets with their out-of-the-ordinary potatoes. That morning they had Persian melons, Aravahah and Ogin melons, both of Israeli origin, Sweetie melons, and Cavanion (no one there seemed to know the correct spelling of this delicious little melon that originated in France).
Z: Esther, a member of the Weiser Family, tried to educate us about melons as she kept handing us samples. To taste is to be ecstatic! Bringing some home was a must as were some fingerling and Peruvian Purple potatoes. The neat thing about Weiser is that they are registered organic.
R: We usually find a number of vendors selling avocados, but at this market Holy Guaca-Moly from Fallbrook stood out from the others. George took great pride in telling us he had been awarded first prize in the Fallbrook Avocado Festival for his guacamole. He sells the guacamole in 10 oz. and 20 oz. containers along with his avocados. His ranch keeps him quite busy with its 400 avocado trees.
Z: Speaking of trees, the Fresno Dried Fruit people have between four and five hundred trees. At this market they featured a wide variety of dried fruits and nuts.
R: When it comes to vegetables, or "greens" as Zel calls them, there was an ample choice. Top Veg of Carson showed up with their usual humongous choice including some unique items such as mizuna and shizo which are Oriental vegetables. Zamora Farms from Vista and Rodriguez from Selma offered squashes and peppers. Tomai of Oxnard had their usual variety of vegetables as well as melons. By 11:00 a.m. Harry's Berries was depleted of strawberries and only had tomatoes, soybeans, cucumbers and beans left. Fetzner Farm from Perris had a "no indigestion" sign on their giant Maui onions. Their squashes, garlic, chard, carrots, turnips, and shallots were offered at reasonable prices.
Z: Flower lovers could have a good time at this market. Thomas Lee's Orchids were breathtaking. He told us he calls his business Poor Tom Nursery. I think he was kidding, because he was laughing and his eye had a twinkle when he said it.
R: He had a tent-shaded booth to protect his plants from the hot sunlight. When we entered the tent, the first thing we noticed was the spider orchid. Wow! The variegated burgundy and yellow coloring was so dramatic!
Z: The two that nearly knocked us over were the oncidium orchids: Sweet Sugar and Sharry Baby. Sharry Baby smells just like a chocolate bar. Thomas had a few minutes to show us how he starts his orchids in plastic containers.
R: We both did double takes when we passed Calscape Growers from Pasadena. It was hard to just walk by the plumeria plant. What beauty! Their selection had a pineapple plant, tuberoses, African blue hibiscus, and Stevia plants from Central America. Gerda Gallo, whose husband is co-owner, gave us the details about the care and feeding of stevia plants.
Z: We had an opportunity to speak to Gretchen Sterling, who has managed this market since its inception. She and Betty Hamilton signed on to manage the Tuesday Market in 1980. It followed Gardena as the second farmers' market in Southern California. Together they managed the Saturday market since 1984. Both were also managers of the Glendale market until Betty's recent retirement.
R: The Interfaith Hunger Coalition helped the Neighborhood Improvement Association launch the market with the city of Pasadena providing the market space. Five years ago the market was turned over to the city of Pasadena.
Z: Gretchen currently has the distinction of holding the market manager position longer than any other manager in Southern California, 20 years. The Saturday market includes 45 vendors with 40 certified. About 1500-1800 attend on a typical Saturday. The only time the market is closed is when the Rose Parade floats are displayed there for a few days after the event.
R: Both her daughter, Leslie, and her son, Joshua, grew up working at the market helping out in various capacities. Gretchen estimates she spends about 20 hours each week on her job with a few additional in the summer. With the market phone right in her home, Gretchen is always on call. That's dedication.
Pasadena Farmers' Markets
Villa Parke Center
Reviewed August 2000