Weekly Market Digest: Winter Citrus

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Now is the time of year to shop for citrus at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market. No matter where you cast your eye, you’ll see tables piled with grapefruits, pomelos, blood oranges and kumquats.

Fruit breeders specializing in hybrid plants like their experimental varieties to be grown at Mud Creek Ranch, where they’ve amassed close to 200 different varieties of citrus trees. Once a hybrid tree is planted in the ground, it can take five years of testing to see whether a new fruit can make it to the market. To some, this might sound like a tedious process with unpredictable yields, but farmer Marguerita Smith says her father Steve Smith lives for the gamble. Smith says she routinely comes home to find 20 new trees planted on the farm. We recommend stopping by the Mud Creek Ranch stand at the farmers market to taste the Rex Union grapefruit, a Seville orange-Shaddock Pomelo hybrid created by UC-Riverside fruit breeders.

Stan Weightman is quite the gentleman. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Stan Weightman and Valerie Gordon own Valerie Confections, with storefronts in Echo Park and the Grand Central Market in Downtown LA. As he is today, Weightman’s often at the farmer’s market searching for a new and exciting fruit to candy. When he does discover a jewel at the market, he calls Gordon to get her two cents.

He had such a conversation three years ago when he happened upon the bergamot. Mud Creek Ranch is one of the only California farms we know of growing and selling such a small fragrant yellow citrus fruit. Bergamots have a very short season — just two short weeks, so get them before they’re gone. You may not have knowingly eaten the fruit, but if you’ve ever had a cup of black tea, you’ve probably tasted it. That’s because bergamots make up the “essence” of Earl Grey tea. From last year’s supply, Valerie Gordon made bergamot rhubarb marmalade, and it’s since become a crowd favorite. We can’t wait to taste what Gordon cooks up from this year’s bergamot haul.