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Spring “Starts” at the Farmers’ Markets

Crab apple blossoms from the market

The season has officially begun, clocks have sprung forward, and farmers’ markets are filled with young plants — called “starts” — for our gardens. You’ll find growing advice and various heirloom tomatoes, such as Black Krim and San Marzano, at Windrose Farm at the Wednesday Santa Monica market, and every vegetable imaginable from Jimmy Williams’ Hayground Organic Gardening at the Santa Monica and Hollywood markets. Windrose will also have basils, peppers, eggplants and herbs in about three weeks. Have you seen those teeny spring onions at markets recently? You can even repurpose those into your garden (uncooked and roots still attached, of course). Farmer Alex Weiser says they should indeed take hold and grow bigger. Remember, using California-produced plants means your garden harvest will be truly locally grown.

Fruit growers are bringing blossom-laden cuttings to market these days, another sure sign of the season. This past week, I bought an armload of amazing crab apple branches for $10. The closed flowers are a delicious pinky red that open to the palest blush, providing several days’ worth of multi-colored glory.

Heirloom tomato starts from Windrose Farm

Just in time for Passover and Easter, fava beans are finally here (they’re particularly late this year). Look for smallish, bright green, plump pods, which contain the tenderest beans. Pop them out of their cushiony cases and use the smallest as is, or blanch for a minute or two and slip off their skins. Scatter young favas on spring salads or vegetable sautés for a bittersweet accent.

Also new this week is the return of extra-sweet purple asparagus from Zuckerman’s Farm in the Sacramento Delta (see this April 2009 post for more on Zuckerman’s) at markets around town. Price is $4 per pound, down a dollar from last year’s scant crop. Zuckerman’s also sells old-fashioned russet baking potatoes, which are, amusingly enough, a rare treat at farmers’ markets.

Amelia Saltsman is the author of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook.

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