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Gems at last!

For years I’ve been haunted by a peculiar fruit. The first time I read Lindsey Shere’s “Chez Panisse Desserts” (still my sweets bible), I was taken by her description of the Lavender Gem -- “A cross between a grapefruit and a mandarin orange.... The flavor is delicate and sweet and the peel is sweet and less Dscn0881tangy than that of some other citruses” -- I had to try them. But they were elusive. That book was published 22 years ago and just this week, for the first time, I found Lavender Gems at the farmers market. (I am not alone in my quest -- or my lack of success; every winter I get two or three e-mails asking me about them. I instantly know what book the e-mailers have been reading.)

So I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw a little sign for Lavender Gems at the Mud Creek Ranch stand at the Santa Monica farmers market Wednesday. I grabbed everyone I ran into and dragged them over to see. (Apparently, Shere is not as widely revered as she should be; most of my victims merely gave me a good-natured shrug.)

Robin and Steven Smith, who farm outside Santa Paula, have 10 Lavender Gem trees and will be selling the fruit at farmers markets for the next couple of weeks. Also known as Wekiwa or Pink tangelo (it’s actually a cross between a grapefruit and a tangelo), the fruit is fairly low in acidity, making it taste even sweeter than it is. (Most grapefruit have a sugar-to-acid ratio of 14- or 15-to-1; Lavender Gems can reach into the 20s.)

What’s the fruit taste like? I have to say that as 20-year quests go, this one was somewhat anticlimactic. Lavender Gems, at least on first introduction, are certainly nice and sweet with a slight floral quality. They seem to me to have more orange flavor than grapefruit. But after searching that long I had kind of hoped for trumpets blaring and fireworks flashing. That may be because the Smiths' trees are still fairly young; character sometimes develops as trees mature. I'm happy to give them time. After all, I've already waited 20 years.

Mud Creek Ranch sells at the Wednesday Santa Monica, Tuesday and Saturday Santa Barbara, Sunday Ojai and Sunday Hollywood farmers markets.

-- Russ Parsons

Photo by Russ Parsons

 
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If you are truly fortunate, you may someday run into a citrus fruit called a "sarawak" -- another grapefrult/something cross, this one with a thick green rind and fruit that tastes -- no kidding -- like a delicious daiquiri. The only place I've ever seen it is at the stand of the redoubtable Gene Etheridge, i.e., "Etheridge Farms," at the Calabasas farmers market on Saturday mornings. It apparently has a season of about 4 hours, so finding it is truly hit-or-miss, but it's well worth the search.


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