R: When people hear the phrase Melrose Place, they think of the weekly nighttime soap opera with all of those beautiful Hollywood people who managed to share each other's problems and sometimes each other's beds.
Z: Wait a minute, we're becoming quite racy for a farmers' market report. Why not just say that Melrose Place is a short street between Croft Avenue and Orlando Avenue? That's where one of Los Angeles's newest farmers' markets can be found.
R: O.K., it's a short block but a very special block with tents and tables lining the street that was barricaded to halt traffic. The market was not exactly crowded at 9:30 in the morning, but we learned later that customers of this neighborhood market like to sleep in on Sunday mornings, so the market doesn't really come alive until about 11:00.
Z: During the week Melrose Place is probably bustling with a different clientele, people looking for antiques, custom furniture, and decorators. I made a mental note to return sometime during the week and check out some of those special shops.
R: Since this is the season for cherries, I was hoping they would be available at this market. Both Andres Farms from Fresno and Rosendahl Farms from Caruthers offered bright red cherries. We were drawn to the Rosendahl folks who had one table filled with plastic containers of Tulare cherries. Later we found another table at the other end of the market with their other fruits.
Z: When we reached the other Rosendahl table, I noticed their citrus and their first-of-the season stone fruits like yellow nectarines, peaches, and apricots. Their citrus included navel oranges, lemons, and our favorite oro blancos. They're the sweetest grapefruit we've ever experienced.
R: Normally, Zel notices the cut flowers and begins her oooh's and aah's immediately. That morning I was attracted by the visual offerings of two vendors we had seen at other markets: Skyline Florists and Cho's Nursery.
Z: We had met Cho himself at the Larchmont market and remembered the unique persimmon tree he was selling there. Cho had a few minutes to tell us about his 20-acre nursery in Somis. Of that 20 there are 10 acres of greenhouses. I was especially attracted to the spider chrysanthemums in bright pinks and blues. Reuben was shocked to learn that they were dyed to create a unique effect.
R: When Cho explained that dyes are placed in the water to make them pink or blue, I was disappointed. I guess I didn't feel it was right to mess with Mother Nature. Fortunately, the Dutch irises, stargazer lilies, dahlias, asters, and gerbera daisies were spectacular without the dye tampering.
Z: I'm always partial to gerbera daisies. They had a beautiful selection in almost any color a person would want: red, hot pink, coral, gold, pastel yellow, and a unique creamy pastel peach variety.
R: As we stood beneath the awning of the Skyline Florists, my notetaking aroused the suspicion of Richard who thought I was comparison shopping and writing down his prices. When we explained we were writing about the market for our vegetarian magazine, he became quite friendly.
Z: He told us he had been eating live foods for the last year. Of course, we gave him a VIP card and told him to check out our web magazine for some great information and links on raw living foods.
R: In addition to miniature roses and a wide variety of gerbera daisies, he showed us a few flowers we had not seen very often, like those green Bells of Ireland. We should have known about those for Saint Patrick's Day.
Z: I was intrigued by the celosia that's sometimes known as the brain flower because of its unique buds. There was one variety in pink and lavender that was labeled Godithia. We later learned it was godetia or clarkia. No matter what name, it was quite beautiful.
R: When we reached the Scarborough Farms table, I was humming the Beatles' song as Zel kept exclaiming about the wonderful lettuces available. They had all the baby lettuces and field greens those expensive restaurants use in their trendy salads.
Z: Yes, I had to have a bunch of those baby red carrots and some fresh pea shoots. I had never seen yellow pea shoots before. We were offered a taste and were amazed at the delightful sweetness. Small bundles of fresh herbs filled one tub with an amazing array of green textures: mint, sage, rosemary, tarragon, savory, thyme, lemon balm, basil, and arrugula. As we stood there eyeing all of these delights, a man walked up and purchased a giant bag of arugula. Two dollars bought him a half-pound bag. As he was leaving, he told us he had never had arugula before he discovered it at this market. Now he comes every week to purchase this spicy herb.
R: I never got to ask about the frisee. I did notice they offered a Home Chef Salad Kit in a plastic container. This farmer also offers edible flowers, pansies and nasturtiums, that make an ordinary salad sparkle with color.
Z: Before we left we had to have our own assortment. Of course, it included those yellow pea shoots and some arugula.
R: Because we have been reading about how healthy green vegetables are, we had to examine the offerings of Yang Farms of Fresno. Omar, who is a high school student, explained that this is a family business that harvests 15 acres. Other members of the family were at the Hollywood market that day. Because of him we know what color blossoms are on each type of broccoli greens.
Z: Correct, Chinese broccoli has white blossoms. Thai broccoli and broccoli rabe have yellow blossoms. He was selling other healthy greens like collards, Swiss chard, baby bok choy, mustard, and dandelions. Also offered were beets, carrots, celery, turnips, daikon radish, zucchini, green beans, and onions.
R: I was hoping Zel would not buy dandelion greens. They're just too bitter for me. But she did, and she'll probably sneak them into a salad or two.
Z: Not to worry, I'm determined to keep us both healthy. One of the most unique experiences we had that morning was seeing the wares of California Family Farms of Westlake Village. Beth proudly announced that all of their produce was organic. But, it was the exceptional selection of mushrooms that blew us away.
R: Beth told us she had brought 14 kinds of mushrooms last week, but today she only had 10. What a 10! By the time we left we had purchased 6 of those10. We were going to have a not-so-inexpensive mushroom feast that evening.
Z: We had never tasted morels, so that had to go into the bag. A man who identified himself as a chef, gave me instructions on how to prepare them. I also had to have some Hon-Shimeji also known as Buna-Shimeji or brown beach mushrooms.
R: They looked like a miniature mushroom forest with a cluster of tiny mushrooms caps standing on long stems that were fastened together at the bottom. She also showed us yellow chanterelles that we had tasted before and king oyster mushrooms that were new to us. They looked like a crookneck squash with a fan on top.
Z: We mustn't forget the black trumpets that Reuben says tastes like the black fungus served in some of the Chinese restaurants. But my favorite was the porcini mushrooms. What a taste treat! They had a soft, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, texture and taste to match.
R: In addition to the mushrooms, she sold Belgian endive, Persian cucumbers, Chinese broccoli, baby turnips, yellow and red pear tomatoes, and little bouquets of wild French asparagus.
Z: I am now addicted to wild French asparagus. So delicious raw, there's no need to cook them. They're about four inches long with the miniature top in the shape of a pastel green asparagus attached to a thin, sweet, light green stem. Our salad that night was a gourmet's idyllic vision.
R: Before we ended our market visit, we stopped to have a cordial chat with Dan Rochin, the personable market manager who also manages the Century City market. The market is owned operated by Jennifer McColm, who has a number of markets in Los Angeles County.
Z: Dan has managed the market since it opened in November 2001. We asked Dan what occupations he had held before managing farmers' markets. He briefly told us about his careers managing movie theaters and bowling alleys.
R: The market averages about 300 to 400 visitors weekly who come to sample the wares of 20 growers, about a dozen crafters, and five food vendors.
Melrose Place Certified Farmers' Market
Reviewed June 2003