You expect to find jalapenos, habaneros, and serranos at your local grocery store, but the best go beyond that—to golf-ball-round manzanos, gently curved Anaheims, sweet cubanelles, skinny Thai chiles, and spicy neon Hungarians.
Those fresh peppers sit neatly stacked in wood-slatted bins next to a library of dried chiles—pasilla, ancho, guajillo, mulato, morita, chipotle—at Horrocks Farm Market in Battle Creek, one of three produce-markets-slash-halls of wonders going by that name in western Michigan. There are more peppers, in quantity and variety, than you might expect to find at a little market tucked behind a pancake diner in a town of 52,000 and within throwing, if not spitting, distance of the Amtrak train to Chicago.
Fresh peppers sit neatly stacked in wood-slatted bins next to a library of dried chiles—pasilla, ancho, guajillo, mulato, morita, chipotle—at Horrocks Farm Market in Battle Creek, one of three produce-markets-slash-halls of wonders going by that name in western Michigan.
But there they are, alongside bins of local apples, tomatillos half-shedding their skins, gnarled fingers of ginger root, and big shiny tins of flavored olive oils tapped like kegs.
Horrocks began as a humble fruit stand in Lansing. Jerald and Patricia Horrock started selling produce from their farm in 1959. Their roadside stand grew into a farm stop, then into a small chain of family-owned markets—with attached bars, where you can stop for a local beer as you shop—in Battle Creek, Lansing and Grand Rapids.
Shopping there now, months into a pandemic, is a different experience. The samples in the popcorn aisle—ranch-, caramel-, parmesan-garlic-, and sugar-cookie-flavored bites of crunch—are gone. Sheets of plastic shield the cashiers. But so much else is familiar: the diversity of flavors and colors, the freezing-cold dairy shed with its shelves of two-pound roll butter, the extra-approachable employees.
I went back to Horrocks for the first time recently, after many months away from home and then a two-week period of self-quarantine during which I relied on Instacart deliveries from supermarkets to keep me fed and ate too-sour, too-green Fujis.
There is a time and place for the superstores of the world and the apps that facilitate their products getting to us, but it is not now, when the world is still on pause in some ways and delights are few and far between. Shopping such a spectacular array of nourishing ingredients is not a chore. It is a celebration. It is an exploration. It is an opportunity to remember how wonderful food can be and how it can take care of us.
After finishing my quarantine, I wandered down aisles of stacked wire shelving. I saw local produce lined up next to fruits and vegetables from around the world, all laid out in technicolor splendor. None of it was exoticized, rarified, or made unapproachable. I walked past slabs of fudge and packages of local beef. I found chile guaque nestled next to bell peppers. I saw a woman in a navy shirt bedazzled with a hummingbird design scoop dark red jamaica flowers into a bag and put them in her cart next to chicken salad sandwiches from the deli. I picked up plum tomatoes, bright summer strawberries, and tiny tindora “cucumbers” that I’d never tried before, intrigued by their marbled, melon-y skin. I passed over the lychees, pink and wrinkled, but I’ll be back for them. I filled a bag with fist-sized Michigan-grown Fujis.
When I got home, I sliced one open and found it crisp, sweet, and not at all wanting.