Standing up for fruits
Henri puts his hands on the fresh goodies
My foreman Bo down at the shop showed me one of your columns a couple months ago and says, “I think he should do a article on fruit stands,” then laughed like hell. Which I didn’t think was very nice. Anyways, I been reading your columns ever since, ‘cause I always thought I could of been a pretty good chef if I didn’t have to get married and then get this job right out of high school. In fact, I’d like to do some of the cooking around our house myself, but my wife and Bo are old friends—she’s real nice and goes over to his place every Wednesday night to help him study for his contractor’s license—and he’d find out and then I’d never hear the end of it. Do you have any suggestions?
P.S. How tall are you?
First, I think you should come right out and tell Bo the truth yourself. Better that he hear it from you. Besides, I bet deep down even Bo—though he won’t admit it—would actually enjoy preparing a little soufflà or terrine d’Aubergine.
Then, find a simple recipe—perhaps for pasta with fresh tomatoes—and go shopping. It’s half the fun.
And—how’s this for a coincidence!—I’d go to a fruit stand, although I prefer to call them produce stands. This time of the year, the produce is exceptional—fresh, local and very inexpensive—and there’s a huge variety, far more than you’ll find at the Chico farmers’ markets. In fact, three of the best produce stands I’ve ever been to are on Highway 70 south of Oroville: Sodaro’s, Bock’s and Tony’s. I discovered them last summer on my way back from Reno—Charo was at the Swizzle Lounge, and she was fabulous—and Miss Marilyn and I drove down again last week to stock up.
As usual, the tables were laden with boxes and boxes of gorgeous peaches, tomatoes (perfect for your pasta sauce), corn, beans, squash, nectarines, nuts, cherries, grapes, melons and much more, and there were lots of plates of peaches cut in quarters for sampling. Usually, the produce has been picked that day or the day before, and when I asked one of the growers—who are often on-site to help with your selections—if it was all local, he said, “Unfortunately, no. The watermelons come from Yuba City, and the strawberries come from Dixon.” Still pretty local, if you ask Henri.
Driving south from Chico, Tony’s Fruit Stand is the first one you’ll come to—about a quarter mile off the highway. I bought five huge tomatoes ($1.50/lb.), sampled six or seven varieties of peaches, and bought some 49er Freestones, White Flesh Freestones, and Firecrests ($4.50 for a large box). Absolutely divine. I also tasted a pluot (half plum, half apricot) and a white nectarine. Scrumptious. Unfortunately, what little corn was left didn’t look very good.
A half mile past Tony’s, you’ll come to Bock’s. I bought some plums, and green beans (large bags were $1.50 each) and a bag of cherries, which I had that night with a pint of Shubert’s Chico Mint. I also couldn’t resist the tomatoes, and bought another half dozen. Still no decent-looking corn, though.
Another mile and half down the highway is the turn-off to Sodaro’s, also located about a quarter of a mile down a dirt road. Behind the tables of peaches, tomatoes and grapes was a large stainless-steel refrigerator with a hand-printed sign that read “White Corn 5 for $1"—packed with beautiful fresh corn that had been picked that morning. I bought five ears—sometimes it drops to eight or ten ears for a dollar—and it was probably the best and sweetest corn I’ve ever had. Try it grilled with my avocado butter. You might even want to invite Bo over.
Good luck, Corky. (By the way, I’m five-eight and a quarter.)