Andy Mariani says he owes a debt of gratitude to California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG), an organization that has allowed him to swap scion wood with other fruit fanatics and offer some exceptional fruits to his customers they otherwise would never get the chance to try. Here’s a look at a few:
‘Green Gage’ plum: Small, greenish plum with exquisite flavor. It is considered the very best-flavored market plum of Europe, but its need for substantial winter chill, cross-pollination and its alternate bearing habit limits its success as a commercial plum in California.
‘Alameda Hemskirke’ apricot: Often called ‘Alamedas’ after its origin in Alameda County, it grew side-by-side with ‘Blenheim’ apricots, the iconic variety that made the Santa Clara Valley famous. Richly flavored, similar to ‘Moorpark.’ Difficult to grow, ‘Alamedas’ succeed in only the most favorable apricot climates.
‘Baby Crawford’ peach: University of California researchers tested this selection as a market peach because of its remarkable flavor, but the selection was scrapped due to its small size, lack of red blush, and soft (juicy) texture. Mariani rescued it.
‘Black Republican’ cherry: Named and introduced right after the Civil War by an ardent abolitionist. All politics aside, it is said to have the classic black cherry flavor — rich, complex flavor with complementary acidity and a smack of wild bitterness — exactly what many chefs prefer. The fruit must be tree-ripened for full flavor.
‘Raspberry Red’ nectarine: Developed by CRFG hybridizers, it is the result of crossing a French red-fleshed peach from the Kennedy collection with a California nectarine variety, then re-crossing it with another nectarine. Its red flesh is both sweet and tart (like raspberry). The uniquely rich flavor makes it popular among chefs, ice cream and preserve makers.
‘Belle Magnifique’ cherry: A rare heirloom French cherry from Todd Kennedy’s collection, it is an example of a ‘Duke,’ or sweet/tart cherry hybrid. It successfully borrows the best flavor components from both cherry species and can be eaten fresh or used as a choice culinary fruit.
‘Silk Road’ nectarine: Also introduced by hybridizers from CRFG by crossing selections from Central Asia with California nectarines. It is a rare all golden-yellow nectarine with a slight apricot flavor, and its stone has a sweet kernel like that of an almond — arguably the most popular of Mariani’s fruits at the Santa Monica Farmers Market.