By Barbara Kobsar | Photos by Rachel Stanich
I’m in Brentwood, driving by fields and fields of corn, a crop that’s synonymous with the fall harvest in these neighboring farms. The promise of finding beautiful peppers, tomatoes, melons, and fresh greens is making every mile more exciting.
My first stop is at G&S Farms, where Emilio Ghiggeri, an Italian immigrant, planted the first sweet corn in Brentwood in the 1940s. This continues to be a family-run operation under the management of Glenn Stonebarger, who married Emilio’s daughter in the 1980s, hence the name G&S. I’m greeted by Paul Stonebarger, one of Glenn’s sons, who says he gets lots of help with planting and harvesting their non-GMO corn from his brother Michael and cousin Joseph Ghiggeri.
The time to really enjoy corn on the cob is when it’s freshly picked and in season. G&S is noted for their production of a variety called Brentwood Diamonds, but all of their hand-picked white, yellow, or bi-color varieties—featured at many local farm-to-table restaurants and grocery stores as well as local farmers’ markets—are pleasing.
The corn I take home is sweet, milky, and tender—in a word, just the best! Corn has come a long way since the days when a mere 24 hours after picking, sweet corn would lose half of its sweetness, and a few days later, it would be just starchy and chewy.
Through many decades of development, super-sweet hybrids have become sweeter and now contain nearly three times as much sugar as the mildly sweet varieties. These newer varieties also remain sweeter long after harvest.
And what about color? I see more white corn sold at the farmers’ markets, but I prefer yellow just for the sunny look, even though I know they really taste the same. Most important is to choose ears with green, moist, and snug-fitting husks, and to resist the urge to peel back the husks (which upsets the farmer). Just feel from the outside to make sure the rows of kernels come all the way to the ear’s top. End silk should be golden-brown and dry, and the stem end should be moist. Some growers take pride in bringing their boxes of corn with a layer of ice to keep them cool and sweet as can be!
I go simple with cooking corn: Peel off husk and silk and drop the ear into boiling water for just a few minutes. Or remove just the silk, leave the husks on, and soak the whole ear in water for 20 minutes before tossing on the grill for about 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Carefully peel back husks and serve with butter and salt.
Smith Family Farm
My next stop is Smith Family Farm at 4350 Sellers Avenue in Brentwood. The beautiful, bountiful farm stand comes into sight first. Crates and boxes overflow with cucumbers, eggplant, squash, fresh herbs, strawberries, and of course, tomatoes. Smith Family Farm has earned a spot as the go-to stand for tomatoes at my farmers’ market. There are always several varieties to choose from, but I’m drawn to the heirloom Black Russian to eat freshly sliced and San Marzano for sauce making.
Peppers take center stage at Smith Family Farm during the fall. Choose from Cubanelle, Jimmy Nardello, jalapeño, shishito, padrón, and many more, including the mainstay bell peppers. Jan Smith, whom I worked with at farmers’ markets over 20 years ago, is a pepper aficionado. She takes pride in showing off all the beautiful peppers they grow on the farm and stringing the farm’s chili peppers into ristras that are a popular item with her customers.
Roasted peppers add unexpected flavor to pasta, salads, and bean dishes. Simply bake or broil them, or try spearing with a long, wooden-handled fork and holding the pepper over a gas flame until it’s blackened. Place the charred peppers into a heavy paper bag and seal to allow them to steam. After 10 minutes, the peppers should be cool enough to peel, stem, and seed.
Throughout the fall, Brentwood is a place for family fun, with pumpkin patches and corn mazes at many farms. Plus, you’ll have armloads of good, fresh produce to carry home for your fall harvest table. Learn more at harvestforyou.com. ♦
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each Sunday at the Walnut Creek market and on Saturdays at the Orinda and San Ramon markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Fine-art photographer Rachel Stanich is intrigued by the stories of others. She explores cultural texture and landscape in her work. rachelstanich.com