May your winter season be festively fruitful

As Christmas music on every radio station becomes inescapable, knit scarves and gloves become appropriate accessories, and the smell of noble firs tickle the nostrils of children reaching under their Christmas trees for gifts, it's clear that the end of the year is approaching. This winter season is being brought in not only by slight changes in weather and weekends spent hanging decorations, but by the crate-full at Los Angeles farmers markets every morning.

The Santa Monica farmers market on Pico and Cloverfield offers many seasonal items for anyone thinking about baking holiday pies, stirring up a spiced punch, or preparing dishes appropriate for a cold night in or holiday party.

As is typical with every season, winter provides a fresh selection of fruits and vegetables that thrive in the changing weather pattern that is present this time of year. Depending on the region of Southern California that the farms are located in, whether it be near the beach, the mountains, or the desert, their selection of fruits or vegetables is varying.

Although this is the case, very few vendors, except for those located directly on the coast, are still carrying items like strawberries, and stone fruits have been picked clean off of the tables with the exception of those that have been dried. A popular item surviving from fall harvests are apples.

Leyla Coban, an employee at Ha's Family Farms, had an abundance of apples this past weekend, and assured customers that because of unfavorable weather this year their apples were harvested late, but will be available at their booth through early 2011. Once the apples finish growing on the trees, the abundance of fruit left over is placed into cold storage and sold at markets until the crop runs out.

"The only time that you can't really find apples is summer, and you have all of the other summer fruits coming in, so no one worries about eating apples anyway," said Coban.

Coban recommended that based on texture and taste, the different kinds of apples that they supply should be used for different recipes. Fuji, considered to be the sweetest with a distinct crunch, are great for simply tossing into a bag for lunch and biting straight into when the time comes. Granny Smith, the most sour, is commonly known as "the" pie apple, and when put into the baking dish can be accompanied by Pink Ladies, which are a tantalizing mixture between tangy and sweet. Gala, the softest apple, is typically used for applesauce.

Also available from Ha's is a selection of other popular apple-based treats, including apple ciders, apple vinegars, and jams. "Nothing we have ever goes to waste," said Coban.

Alongside apples this time of year are persimmons. Although they became available in fall, they will be around through the winter and into January. Both sweet and deep orange in color when ripe, the most popular types are Fuya and Hachiya. When selecting persimmons one of the biggest differences between the two that shoppers should keep in mind is the texture. Fuya are characterized by being very firm as Hachiya are soft to the touch, much like an overripe tomato.

Some of the most visually appealing vegetables grown on Southern California farms can be acquired during this time of year, and are available at the Pico and Cloverfield market under the Weiser Family Farms tent.

Tabletops filled with carrots ranging almost every color of the rainbow, Jerusalem artichokes, and multicolored cauliflower are all attainable, although the availability and quality depends greatly on the weather.

According to Neil Ims of Weiser Family Farms, "The colder the ground, the worse the weather, the better the parsnip." As is the case with most root foods, the colder the ground is the better quality, and sweeter fruit is going to be produced.

One other similarity between these root foods is the manner in which Ims believes that they are best prepared. Chanted to any customer who questions how a potato, carrot or brussel sprout should be cooked is Ims' motto, "bake, boil, roast, fry, or mash!" Regular to his table, Vilma Rozansky applies this to her kitchen practices regularly now. "I roast all of my vegetables now, that's the way," she said.

George Jimenez, of Jimenez Family Farms warns that many of the fall fruits and vegetables will be completely out soon, so the time has come to grab the last of many farm's pumpkins as well as corn. Coming in to replace them are many different types of squash, which like apples, can all be used for different dishes that are appropriate this time of year.

Jimenez recommends that Kabocha, a dark green squash with thin, dry skin, is best used for soups, and divulges his own recipe for spaghetti squash, which involves cutting the squash in half, coating the stringy insides with butter and parmesan, and baking in the oven. It becomes, what he swears, is unbelievably familiar to the texture and taste of any old fashioned spaghetti.

SMC student and JJ Farms employee Amrah Hubbard recommends that even though many of the fruits and vegetables discussed above can typically be found at the market this time of year, shoppers should keep in mind that their availability will be come and go, considering many foods sensitivity to winter weather that's just a little bit too cold, a little bit too warm, or unexpected frosts.

Whether or not what customers at the farmers market are looking for is available week to week, there is bound to be something that each shopper can experiment with in the kitchen.

In addition to the efforts made by Los Angeles residents to dust off winter coats and unpack Christmas lights, visitors of the market are encouraged to break out the roasting pans and pie dishes to utilize the array of seasonal vegetables and fruits found every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pico and Cloverfield farmer' market.