You may know Sid Weiser, the "retired," 86-year-old patriarch of Weiser Farms from his regular appearances in their stands at the weekend Santa Monica Farmer's Markets. He's the straw hat-clad guy next to his 76 year-old wife, Raquel, whose disarming smile draws you into the stand to buy potatoes, melons and occasional spinach and squash. Of her charming personality, he says, "Other farmers will come over, talk to her and bring her cheese, chicken, dinner for the week. I can't get her to leave the markets."
Sid got his start farming "late in life," after college, marriage, kids and a career teaching high school chemistry at Garfield High School in East L.A. In 1978, looking for something else to do, he and Raquel bought a 160-acre apple farm in Tehachapi. Soon after, nature taught them the first hard lessons in crop diversification with back-to-back tree-killing frosts, ruining much of their crops. That sent the Weisers in a new direction; restarting with tomatoes and squash to sell locally to stores in 1981.
He laughs when he recalls accepting the gracious act of a neighbor offering to plant some potatoes that year to help them recover. At the height of the season, realizing he had no way of harvesting the below-ground crop, he put a sign out in front of the farm inviting customers to Dig-Your-Own. Now, as son Alex says it, "Our meat and potatoes is potatoes." Weiser Farms, currently three farms strong, produce a wide variety of potatoes, ranging from sturdy, nutty classic Russian Banana fingerlings to medium-textured, pigmented Red Thumbs, selling at stands in ten Los Angeles area farmer's markets including Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Santa Monica.
While older brother Dan manages the books, and sister, Esther, occasionally helps at Saturday markets, Alex is a staple at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's Market listening to customers' inspirations and requests. From these farmer-chef conversations, Alex has introduced and released small plantings of Jerusalem artichokes, Japanese eggplant and their popular Cavaillon melons, a small, French variety similar to cantaloupe, to eager audiences.
Alex lights up like a sparkler when asked for a recipe using a favorite ingredient from the farms. "I got it! A red, white and blue potato salad. It's perfect for the 4th of July." Within moments, he summoned Amelia Saltsman to the stand, author of the Santa Monica Farmer's Market Cookbook, to help tailor a recipe using three different kinds of potatoes for the occasion.
3-Color Smashed Potato Salad with Maui Onions
Makes 8 servings
- 1 pound each of 3 colors medium or large-size potatoes, such as Purple Majesty, Red Thumb, and Russian Banana
- 1 large Maui-type onion, thinly sliced
- 6 tablespoons Extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub potatoes and cut in halves or quarters and place shallow baking pans, keeping colors separate. Toss each with 2 teaspoons olive oil and season with salt and white pepper. Cover pans with aluminum foil and roast for 30 minutes. Remove foil, toss potatoes to loosen from pans and continue roasting uncovered until tender and lightly browned, about 20 minutes more.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil in wide pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and reduce heat to low. Season with salt and white pepper, cover pan and cook until meltingly tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and add a little water toward the end of cooking time if the onions seem dry or are sticking to the pan. Whisk together the vinegar and mustard and stir into the onions.
Using a fork or potato masher, roughly smash each color of potatoes and scrape up any brown bits. Don't worry about smashing them all; you want big chunks of color. Stir 1/3 of the onion mixture into each color. Taste and season with salt, pepper, or vinegar as needed, and a little olive oil if the potatoes seem dry. Gently stir the three batches together so the different colors remain visible. This dish can be made earlier in the day and held at room temperature.
Recipe courtesy Amelia Saltsman, The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook (Blenheim Press, 2007) and The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook Summer Entertaining (July 2011).