On Saturdays, one of my favorite stops for autumn fruits like Asian pears and white pomegranates is the K & J Orchards stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I always make a point to ask Aomboon Deasy (or “Booney” as she is known to many of us at the market) what’s happening back on the farm. Booney’s parents, Kalayada and Jim, started K & J Orchards on a small parcel in Winters in 1982. In the past few years, Booney and her husband Tim have taken on more responsibility at the farm. You can find her at the booth cutting up samples for customers and filling orders for chefs.
In addition to fall fruits, K & J also has a fresh crop of chestnuts available each September. The chestnut harvest generally lasts just a couple of weeks, and then the nuts are stored in a cool, dry place on the farm to prevent spoilage. Booney expects to have them at the market until their supply runs out, which could be by the end of October. With their savory-sweet flavor, chestnuts are in high demand from restaurants like Perbacco, Prospect and The French Laundry.
“The chestnuts are all harvested by hand,” Booney told me. “They come off the tree in sharp, porcupine-like husks, and what’s most labor intensive is taking them out of these husks.” Her crew must wear heavy leather gloves to protect themselves from the spiky pods. The individual husks are pried open to release the two or three nuts inside. The chestnuts have an outer shell that is much more delicate than that of other nut varieties, and so hand harvesting is the best way to ensure there is no damage to the meat.
Fall is definitely the best time to go nuts at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Right now you can find raw peanuts at Chue’s Farm and raw nonpareil almonds at Massa Organics, Kashiwase Farms and G.L. Alfieri Farms. Farmer Gary Alfieri told me this past Saturday that he will begin to harvest the year’s first crop of walnuts in the next week and should have them at his stand in early October.