Vista Farmers Market, Vista, Calif.

Saturday, Dec. 1, 2007

produce at scene of recent fire
subtropical fruit from the market, photographed in charred stand of trees near Fallbrook, in a region that was devastated by fires a few weeks earlier

Vista farmers market under welcomed rainy skies

Just a few weeks ago, tens of thousands of acres here in northern San Diego County were swept by wind-driven flames. A charcoal smell still hangs heavy in the air in the charred patches left behind.

Much was lost, including thousands of acres of farms and orchards. But these hills are accustomed to getting scorched, and life will return.
Helpfully, last night, a rainstorm drenched this hilly region — too late, but eagerly welcomed, as long as it doesn’t cause too much flooding. The farmers I overheard talking about the rain at this market and another, later in the morning, in Temecula, were mentioning totals of 3 and 4 inches. A grower in Temecula said that was more than she got all last year.

Eucalyptus and Escondido
Vista, Calif.
Saturdays, 7:45 a.m. to 11 a.m.

This Saturday farmers market in Vista, which I last reported on in March 2002, has long been my favorite place to get subtropical fruit. The hilly region surrounding this town is blessed with countless valleys and sunny pockets in hillsides that have subtropical microclimates. Generations of adventurous growers with farm and orchards in the region, many of whom are members of California Rare Fruit Growers, have studied comparable climes, for instance the Andean highlands in Colombia and Ecuador, looking for new crops to grow here. There are dozens of exotic varieties to choose from. The fruits of their decades of experimentation are always on display at this farmers market, as well as others in San Diego County, such as the market in the Hillcrest neighborhood that I visited in January 2006.

– Mark Thompson

slide show

What I Bought

subtropical produce
(clockwise from upper right) Buddha’s hand citron, pomegranate, hachiya persimmon, cherimoya, fuyu persimmon, Mexican lime, feijoa, Surinam cherries, guava, star fruit, sapote
Price: $3/Buddha’s hand
$1.50/lb. hachiya persimmons
$.89/lb. for fuyu persimmons
$3.50/lb. for cherimoyas
$.25/each feijoas and guavas
$3/lb. Surinam cherries

Most of the subtropical fruit I picked up today was grown by Ben Poirier, of Ben’s Subtropicals, near Fallbrook. He won’t have cherimoyas for another week, however, so the cherimoya was from another of the several growers who had them today. We’re just now getting into cherimoya season, and the primetime for many other subtropicals.

Sapotes and cherimoyas are among my favorites. Slices of carambola, also known as star fruit, will add one more conversation piece to a subtropical fruit salad. The intensively sweet, custardy sapotes and cherimoyas need an acidic counterpoint in a fruit salad. Slices of oozing blood orange fit the bill in spring. In other seasons, any available citrus fruit will do, and you can add extra lemon or lime to taste.

surinam cherries
Surinam cherries

buddha's hand citron
Buddha’s hand citron

laotian and other peppers
Mixed hot peppers including habaneros, Thai and Laotian, with tomatoes
Price: $1/lb. overripe tomatoes
$3/basket of chili peppers

shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms
Price: $3.50/lb.