By David Karp, Special to the Los Angeles Times
July 30, 2010
Goji berries, the much-hyped "superfruit" native to China, touted for their medicinal properties and surprisingly delicious too, are now available for the first time as fresh fruit at local farmers markets.
The berries, which sometimes still have their green stalks attached, are small, about the size of an average blueberry, but are elliptical or conical, often pointed at the end. They have smooth, thin, flaming red-orange skin, about the color of a ripe Hachiya persimmon; their texture ranges from firm to flabby, depending on ripeness; and their flavor varies from slightly vegetal and tomatoey, in a few underripe specimens, to rich and sweet, evoking persimmon, rose and raisin, with a spicy aftertaste. They're actually more interesting than one would think based on the dried fruits and juice of goji imported from China, which have become popular in recent years for their high antioxidant and phenolic content.
The San Joaquin Valley, however, is hot enough to "finish" Elberta and its similar-tasting kin, such as July Elberta (ripe the last two weeks) and Fay Elberta (starting any day now), which are somewhat less astringent; and Art Lange of Reedley, the dean of farmers market stone-fruit growers, is just nuts enough to pick them fully ripe. His Fay Elbertas will be sold shortly under the Honey Crisp banner at the Beverly Hills Sunday and Santa Monica Wednesday markets.
There was another type that predated Chinese Cling and its descendants in America, the Crawford family of peaches, which was universally recognized for high flavor and tender, juicy flesh. F.A. Waugh wrote in 1913 in "The American Peach Orchard: "Their unquestionable high quality makes these varieties favorites of the best customers. Housewives who are in the habit of canning fancy peaches for home use still insist on Crawfords, and rightly object when Elbertas are offered as a substitute."
The varieties of this type, such as Early Crawford, Late Crawford, Admiral Dewey and St. John, were still grown in California as late as the 1950s but have now passed out of cultivation because of their low production.
The unsurpassed Crawford flavor might well have vanished, except from scientific collections, had it not been almost miraculously reincarnated in a selection of unknown ancestry rescued from the reject pile at the UC Davis cling peach breeding program, which became known as Baby Crawford. With deep golden skin and flesh and an intense peachy aroma that can fill a room, this modern freestone variety was adopted and promoted several decades ago by Andy Mariani, a grower in Morgan Hill, near San Jose, and has become a favorite among members of California Rare Fruit Growers.
Barbara and Bill Spencer of Windrose Farm in Paso Robles have 10 producing trees of Baby Crawford and 50 more on order from Trees of Antiquity, a local nursery; they should have the fruit next Wednesday or the following at the Santa Monica farmers market.
Last Wednesday the Spencers started bringing Peregrine, an exquisite English white peach from 1906, very juicy and richly flavored, and derived, appropriately, from the old Spenser nectarine. They will also soon be selling the Silver Logan white peach, which is large and roundish with firm but melting flesh, intense, balanced flavor and a honey-like aroma — a peach counterpart to the celebrated Snow Queen white nectarine. Such are the varieties worthy of true connoisseurship.