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December 1, 2005

Chestnuts Roasting heading


Winter does not start officially for a few weeks, but it definitely feels like winter -- and not just because I was shivering in a hailstorm yesterday and it's wet and gray again today. No, it seems like winter because the Farmers' Market season has ended.

It's only been a little more than a week since the last market, and it will be a long, cold wait until spring brings another. No more strolling down to the plaza on Saturday mornings to visit with friends, soak up the music du jour and munch on those great cheese rolls, olives and shrimp tamales -- and maybe even pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables.

I talked with a few marketeers on the Saturday before Thanksgiving about plans for the post-market season. Some were more than ready for a weekend off, well, a Saturday with no sales responsibilities anyway. Others said they'll miss the extra income and/or the social interaction: You can talk to your plants, but they seldom reply.

For Andy Zierer of Flora Organica, it's more a case of shifting gears. He has a few busy weekends ahead selling his pepper and dried flower wreaths and bouquets at a series of holiday crafts fairs. (I'm sure you'll find him at the Humboldt Artisans Crafts and Music Fair at Redwood Acres this weekend.)

Then you have the McIntosh Family Farm which, at the peak of the season, sells at four different farmers' markets. Clayton McIntosh tells me he has been growing fruits and vegetables for 15 years on a plot of land near Willow Creek that his family has been farming since 1913. If you're a market regular you may have bought his peaches or tomatoes, or maybe late season peppers or persimmons, or perhaps a bag of hot chestnuts roasted right there in the booth.

When I spoke with Clayton on the last market day of the season, he and his family were quite ready for a winter with no street sales. They had just opened McIntosh Farm Country Store on Giuntoli Lane in Valley West, something like an indoor version of the stall at the market, but with more space and more to choose from.

"It's like the farmers' market in a store, plus," said Clayton. "We sell all of our fruits and vegetables there and we also have arts and crafts, candles and soaps -- just about everything handmade locally."

Of course, being the off-season, you won't find the cornucopia you'll find at a late-summer market. But, said Clayton, "We'll have all the winter produce. We still have our chestnuts, persimmons and peppers. We'll have citrus, avocados and other nuts, almonds and walnuts, plus dried fruits, local honey, jams and jellies made with our produce, baked goods from the kitchen."

When I stopped by the new store this week, I found all that and more. A large hand-painted sign out front boasted, "Wild Mushrooms," which was one reason I was there; a friend told me he'd picked up some chanterelles at a decent price and I was thinking about adding them to a noodle dish I was making with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Not to complain, but I had to make do with matsutakes. Clayton's valid excuse was most of his family came down with a bug over the weekend and taking care of them left no time for chanterelle hunting. (The matsutakes were a great substitute.)

I also brought home some of those baked goods he had promised. I had a fine piece of apple-crumb coffee cake made by Clayton's mom with my morning coffee today. Last night's dinner ended with another of his mom's creations: amazing confections made from dates and toasted nuts.

And, with "The Christmas Song" running through my head ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire; Jack Frost nipping at your nose...") I picked up some chestnuts. Of course there's no fireplace at my house, so I'll have to find another way to cook them. "There's a lot of ways you can roast chestnuts," Clayton told me, as he did just that the other day at the Arcata Farmers' Market. He had been dry roasting the nuts on site, filling cast iron skillets with them and cooking them in a gas-fired barbecue.

His No. 1 bit of advice: "You have to cut them open first, cut a hole in the skin so it doesn't explode when you cook it." Clayton's tool of choice for piercing is an old fashioned beer can opener. He explained that if you skip that step, "They can get you good with a steaming hot 212° explosion. The whole thing'll blow to smithereenies and make a mess of your oven and your kitchen and burn you."

If you'd rather forgo the barbecue, he recommends roasting them on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350°. Check the hot nuts after half an hour to see if they're done by poking a knife inside. "The flesh should be tender like a potato," he explained.

You say you'd rather have someone else roast them? Stop by the McIntosh store this weekend. "We'll be roasting chestnuts every Friday and Saturday," Clayton promised. "And we're also going to be putting in a kitchen so we'll be able to cook our fine produce and offer really good meals to go. That will be great."

Sounds pretty good to me. Now if they could just get some of those shrimp tamales from Celebration Catering, and maybe set up an old timey band in the corner....

McIntosh Farm Country Store is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 1264 Giuntoli Lane, Arcata, right across the street from TP Tires. Call them at 822-0487.


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