Glenn Tanimoto of Gridley, CA shows off his chestnuts with their spiky hulls still attached. It’s inspiration for the most beautiful Thanksgiving centerpiece Martha Stewart never imagined. For eating purposes, you can buy hulled ones. Because they’re so young, you can nosh them raw, which is how Tanimoto prefers to do things. If cooking, he recommends boiling over roasting because you don’t have to slit a vent in each one to ensure they wont' blow up in the oven. Plus, unlike roasted chestnuts, which harden upon cooling, boiled ones will stay soft and keep in the refrigerator.
Crouch alongside other shoppers as they peel the husks off sticky corn and drop the dwarf cobs into their plastic bags. This variety is starchier than white corn and not as sweet. The Moua family, Hmong refugees who came to the US in 1987 from Laos, also grow a plethora of other Southeast Asian produce, including explosive Thai chiles which they’ll have until November.
Apolinar Yerena, owner of Yerena Farms, brought these special beans from Jalisco to his farm near Watsonville. Their mottled surface and flavor resembles cranberry beans, but you can eat these ones whole. Toss the entire pod into boiling water for a few minutes. They’ll turn purplish-black when finished.
It’s peak pear season through November at K & J Orchards, where the lineup includes crisp, bulbous, and juicy shin li, ya li, shinko, and hosui varieties.
Aha, we found the prom queen of produce. These fluttery beans attracted plenty of glances and clucks from passersby. The whole pod is edible, an asset considering that they cost $8 per pound.
How do you identify the best Lisbon Lemon for a customer? Sniff it. You’ll find plenty of other obscure citrus fruits from Bernard Ranches, like olinda oranges, blush grapefruit, and bearss limes.
Late Season Grapes
These late season, plump, and sugary grapes from Benzler Farms include green Autumn Kings, red Scarlet Royals, and purple Autumn Royals. “Tasting is mandatory,” says grower Tom Benzler (pictured).
We did a triple-take when we saw a carton of eggs labeled “Balut” from Haney Egg Ranch in Ceres, CA. Inside those innocent-looking shells curls a developing duck embryo. To prepare, you boil the egg, crack it open, sprinkle a dash of salt, and eat the teensy duck inside—beak, legs and all. It’s a common snack in the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
I first tasted these minuscule round eggplants in a coconut curry in Bangkok. I mistook them for grapes, because they were so small. Their bitter flavor marries with the natural sweetness of coconut. The red and orange ones are ripe.
Even though I don’t understand the appeal of jujubes—not quite crunchy and not quite soft, marginally sweet with hardly any juice—plenty of other people do, as evidenced by the crowds sorting through the bin searching for the darkest ones.
Pupusas from Estrellita’s Snacks
Here’s the pupusa you crave—thick masa disks that owner Maria del Carmen shapes to-order, stuffs with refried beans, melted cheese, meat and/or mushrooms, and griddles until toasty on both sides. A sharp curtido (El Salvadorean cabbage slaw) cuts through the heaviness. It’s a $3 lunch that’ll easily keep you full until dinner.
El Huarache Loco
While mother Veronica Salazar tends the family’s year-old restaurant of the same name in Marin, dad Miguel manages the mobile kitchen at Alemany with their daughter and family friends comprising the rest of the small staff. While you ponder the massive menu, admire the parade of steaming bowls of lamb’s soup, glossy fried eggs with chorizo and potatoes, and enchiladas (pictured, $8) stacked like a round lasagna, each layer laden with shredded chicken, sautéed onions and veneer of melted cheese. They rest in a puddle of thin red sauce flecked with diced tomatoes. Most customers order the namesake “huarache,” oblong corn cakes filled with beans and topped with your choice of meat and a bright tumble of fixings that crown just about everything El Huarache Loco serves—shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped white onion, queso fresco, cilantro, and crema. If your order doesn’t come with the sunset-colored chile de arbol salsa, ask for a side. It’s drinkably creamy with a medium burn.
Pizza from Copper Top Ovens
“There are 50,000 pizzerias in America, and we have this little niche,” says Tom Gerstel, owner of Copper Top Ovens. That’s why he doesn’t have plans to open a shop. He also only has one oven—a wood-fired beauty inspired by ancient versions used in Europe. Gerstel cranks it to 1000ºF when he’s catering a party and needs to cook pizzas in 90 seconds. At Alemany, he keeps it at 750ºF to 800ºF to cook whole ($12) or half ($7) pies in two minutes. His crust is thin, delicate, and cracker-crisp. It’s so good some customers order it with a smear of tomato sauce and no other toppings. But doing that would mean missing out on the caramelized figs, sweet Gala apples, walnuts, mascarpone, and woozy aroma of truffle oil that outfits his current Market Special.