Last week in New Orleans at the IACP conference, I met many fellow food writers. One particularly charming author was Amelia Saltsman, who wrote and published The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook. We nibbled on debris (the shavings off a freshly carved roast) a po' boy at Mother's and talked shop.
To keep my carry-on light, I made a promise to myself not to buy anything at the cookbook expo where IACP members were signing books, but I broke it with Amelia's book. I didn't buy it just because I grew up near Santa Monica, or because I enjoy and want to promote shopping at farmers' markets or because I feel it is important to support the work of fellow food writers. I mostly bought it because I knew Amelia published it herself, and because it just looked so good. And then I opened it...
A smattering of portraits by Hill Street Studios. There are no shots of recipes in the book, but no matter, the photo collages like this one are enough to inspire the reader to cook on.
If you're starstruck, it might interest you that Deborah Madison wrote the foreword and there are blurbs from culinary superstars like Alice Waters and Evan Kleiman. Having been through the blurbing process with my own book, I can assure you that these votes of confidence are meaningful.
If you like to look at gorgeous photography, you'll love the vibrant portraits of farmers and their wares. Two generations of boysenberry farmers; a piglet; a tower of asparagus; a little girl with a basket of dates; and a proud egg farmer. Each photo tells a story.
And if you like beautifully crafted, un-intimidating, seasonal recipes that celebrate the earth's bounty without being pretentious, the rest of the book will impress. Some favorite from the Starters chapter is Chantarelle Popcorn (pg. 33), which are roasted Chantarelle mushrooms with Fleur de sel. And although Amelia names the farmer and months they sell at the Santa Monica market, a reader in any region could easy seek out their local mushroom vendor and make the same recipe.
Amelia and I talked about the fact that this is a book that cooks anywhere can use. The point is that it is inspired by one farmers' market and it came together through the inspiration and expertise in that one place, but it is applicable to anyone interested in this kind of cooking.
The recipes are all tagged with the season when their ingredients are their best and there is an additional reference page in the back that indexes recipes by season. As far as I'm concerned, all cookbooks should be doing this.
For spring, how does this menu sound: Braised Tiny Artichokes (pg. 108), Grilled Goat Cheese Wrapped in Fresh Grape Leaves (pg. 36), Green Garlic and New Potato Soup (pg. 56), Spring Vegetable and Fish Ragout (pg.142) and a Berry Pavlova (pg. 177) for dessert?
Another wonderful resource in the front of the book are short chapters like How To Shop (a guide to shopping at farmers' markets,) Useful Plant Terms, Basic Kitchen Techniques, Handy Pantry Items and Helpful Kitchen Tools. This section of the book is such a gift because it makes the entire volume accessible to anyone who has not only never shopped at a local open market, but someone who doesn't cook much. On the other hand, the quality and craft of the recipes makes it accessible and interesting to someone who lives at markets and cooks from them every day.
The only thing I wish had been included, because the book deserves to be embraced by cooks everywhere, is an encouraging chapter on learning about finding one's own local farmers' markets and farmers, for those of us not lucky enough to call Santa Monica home. Until the next printing, LocalHarvest.org has a good search tool.
More on Amelia Saltsman's work: