Department of Unique Gifts for Foodies
Rare cookbooks ripe for discovery are just a mouse click away
By Anina Marcus
Liz Pollock has lovingly collected rare cookbooks and vintage cooking ephemera from auctions, book fairs, library sales, private collections and her own personal travels over the last 30 years—and lucky for us, she offers them for sale online or by appointment at her Santa Cruz home.
“When you are a lifelong lover of cooking and books, every vacation turns into bookstore browsing,” Pollock says, speaking about the methods she’s used to assemble what she calls an “old-fashioned” online bookstore, called the Cook’s Bookcase.
Unlike more conventional online book retailers, which automatically spit out titles of any books that relate to your buying patterns, hers is a curated collection of books that Pollock can recommend because she has actually (drumroll, please!) read them. And if you have questions, she’ll reply personally to your e-mail or take your phone call. She also can special order any new book, and she appraises and buys rare food-related books if you’re looking to shed rather than to acquire.
Just trolling the website’s current book list, which includes photographs of the actual cover of each book (allowing scrutiny of its condition) is a cookbook lover’s adventure. Among the volumes by such food-world rock stars as Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher are esoteric titles like Fancy Ice Carving in 30 Lessons (1947), Butter Molds: A Primitive Art Form (1973), The Poultry Review (1914) or The Beautiful Wives Cookbook: Glittering Recipes from Celebrities’ Kitchens (1970).
One of my favorites is a book from 1930 with black and white pictures of famous chefs, including chef Louis of The Ritz and chef Sabatini of Delmonico’s Steakhouse, called How Famous Chefs use Marshmallows. A favorite of Pollock herself is the menu from The Poodle Dog, San Francisco’s first upscale French restaurant, established in 1849. Among the many dishes described in lovely calligraphic style are Veal Tongue Spanish, Shirred Eggs à la Meyerbeer and, of course, what was and still is considered haute cuisine: escargots!
And price? Despite their unique and unusual nature, many of the books are priced at no more than a contemporary hardcover volume.
Long before the Internet, Pollock published a catalog of theater and musical books. But she promised herself that when she turned 50, she would devote herself to her passion—the food and wine world. Maybe it was her junior high school years in Pasadena, when she was almost always cooking her family’s dinner, that started it all. Her mother bookmarked the recipes from Irma Rombauer’s classic,The Joy of Cooking, so Pollock would know what to make when she arrived home from school. Pollock still considers The Joy of Cooking (first published in 1931 and still in print after nine updates) a “must have” for any beginning cook; she keeps current editions of it and other classics in stock.
Pollock is quick to point out that looking for pristine copies is not her first priority, but rather, she is interested in finding the books that teach how things were done long ago. The more smeared and stained, sometimes, the better, because that shows the book was loved and used.
Ultimately, just as the slow food movement aims to preserve the one-of-a kind flavors and sense of time and place that such culinary heirlooms as Blenheim apricots and bacon avocados can evoke, Pollock with her website seeks to help protect the art of the printed word and the pleasure of holding that rare book—especially that rare cookbook—in your own hands, where you can read the handwritten notes penciled in the margins.
Just recently, I looked at an old cookbook from which my mother baked, and read her note on the margin: “Bake exactly 1 hour from the moment you put it in the oven.” Her oven might not have been the exact same temperature as mine, but isn’t it the thought that counts?
The Cook’s Bookcase • 831.251.9218 www.cooksbookcase.com
Anina Marcus is a lifelong resident of the Monterey Peninsula. When she isn’t cooking, she is thinking about what to eat, and if she can stave off hunger, she writes.
Turn on, tune in and take action
The local food movement takes the debate to the airwaves
By Elizabeth Limbach
When it comes to food shows on radio and television, the majority consists of how-to demos, foodie travelogues or tense kitchen competitions. While these can leave the audience drooling, they are often void of substantial conversation or insight. Two Santa Cruz-based radio shows are different. They aim to rouse intellectual appetites, and they provide in-depth discussions about food and farming issues and what we can do about them.
The newer of the two, FoodSpeaks, is broadcast from the redwood-lined KZSC station on the UC Santa Cruz campus. The program is the brainchild of several recognizable faces from the Santa Cruz food movement: Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Market (SCCFM) director Nesh Dhillon, SCCFM education coordinator Nicole Zahm, Food, What?! founder and director Doron Comerchero, and Kate Purcell of Kate’s Kitchen Gardens. With the support of local radio virtuoso John “Sleepy John” Sandidge, FoodSpeaks has taken over his show, Talkabout, at 7pm on the second Wednesday of each month, and will mark its first anniversary this December.
“Food and farming is such a powerful component of this community, as well as economically very significant,” says Dhillon. “And there are a lot of myths about sustainable agriculture or organic farming. The show is a great opportunity to demystify some of those [myths] and to introduce some of the key people who have made [the local food system] what it is.”
The collaborators take turns hosting the show, which Dhillon calls “pretty grassroots and pretty low-fi.” Rethinking the meaning of “value” as it applies to our food system is Dhillon’s main mission with the program.
FoodSpeaks probed the dichotomy between price tags and true worth when Dhillon interviewed el Salchichero owner and sustainable butcher Chris LaVeque last February. “The way [LaVeque] is doing business is just inherently more expensive, and the community needs to understand that in order to support a more sustainable food system, you have to pay more money,” Dhillon says.
To be sure, plenty of the people who tune in are already hip to the issues, and Dhillon acknowledges that “ultimately, the survival of this movement rests upon the folks that aren’t [yet] a part of it.” As a result, despite their passion for their mission, the FoodSpeaks team strives to avoid sounding preachy, and embraces “educate” and “encourage” as their mantras.
Clear across town, nestled on the banks of the Corcoran Lagoon, broadcast veteran Michael Olson is nearly 20 years into hosting Food Chain Radio at KSCO, Santa Cruz’s oldest radio station. He began broadcasting the show from the station’s vintage 1947 RCA studio (the last of its kind in the country) in 1994, soon after publishing his book MetroFarm, which looks at growing food for profit in urban areas. More than 900 episodes of What’s Eating What (and syndication on 25 stations nationwide) later, Olson says the show’s primary theme has remained the same.
“My goal has always been to bring agriculture together with people. The two have become so separated and divorced.” He recalls his grandmother’s root cellar in Belfry, Montana, which was lined with hundreds of colorful jars of preserved foods. The historic flight from the country to the city has produced city dwellers who are disconnected, and thus vulnerable, when it comes to their food supply, he says. “When you don’t have control over what you eat, you are vulnerable to whatever is in what you’re being fed.”
One thing that has changed over the show’s trajectory has been the public’s interest in these issues. The difference between awareness then and now, he says, is exemplified by the fact that in the beginning, he “was a total heretic,” but now, he gets invitations to do things like speak at University of California farm conferences.
There are also many more writers, researchers and activists focused on the subject than ever before, and Olson regularly brings the food movement’s biggest and most provocative names into listeners’ homes. For example, in September, he hosted Marion Nestle, author ofEat Drink Vote, for a conversation about food politics, and in August, he hosted Beverly Bell and Tory Field, authors of Harvesting Justice,for a conversation about food sovereignty.
Certain issues generate bigger reactions from listeners, such as genetic engineering. (The subject was the sole focus of the now-defunct Right to Know radio show on KZSC, which aired for several months leading up to the 2012 election with hopes of rallying support for Proposition 37.)
But whatever the topic, Olson puts the journalism training he received from working with David Brinkley at NBC to use in crafting each week’s show.
“I always look in my stories for places that are rubbing up against each other,” he says. “I think it takes conflict, friction, to spark interest. Otherwise, you end up being a proselytizer and that gets old really fast. I try my best to put both sides of the conflict on the table. In doing so, I hope to never leave the audience with enough that they’re satisfied, but to always leave them with enough information to go away curious and hungry for more.”
Elizabeth Limbach is an award-winning journalist based in Santa Cruz.
Food Chain Radio airs on KSCO from 9–10am on Saturday mornings at 1080 AM on the radio dial. FoodSpeaks airs from 7–7:45pm the second Wednesday of each month on KZSC, 88.1 FM. Podcasts of past shows may be found on their websites at www.metrofarm.com and www.foodspeaks.org, respectively.
Salinas Valley wreath makers aim to bring their business home
By Deborah Luhrman
Larry and Carol Umbarger raised their four children on a 160-acre ranch near the southern Monterey County town of King City. They grazed cattle, pastured seven horses and grew vegetables, but Larry always had a day job to make ends meet. When it came time to send the kids off to college, Carol started looking for a way to make extra money.
She spotted bouquets of red California pepper berries tied with raffia at a Santa Barbara antiques shop selling for $12 a bunch and thought about all the pepper trees growing on her ranch back home. Soon she was harvesting those pepper berries and driving all over in an orange and white Volkswagen van with a tall ladder looking for more. “I just went up to neighbors’ houses and complete strangers’ and knocked on the doors asking for the berries,” she recalls. Though her kids cringed about the VW van crammed with the red pepper berries, the business took off and they named it Creekside Farms.
Carol sold the ornamental berries to a woman in Marin County who worked with Smith & Hawken, a label that now belongs to Target but at the time was the nation’s first high-end garden lifestyle brand. They asked for more dried flowers and she started with the easiest ones to grow—hot pink and violet Sinuata statice. Two years later they began making their own dried flower wreaths for Smith & Hawken on top of the pool table in their rec room. Larry quit his day job and after decades of hard work, they now count among their clients most of the country’s top home decorating companies, including: Neiman Marcus, Gump’s, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Frontgate, Harry & David, Orvis, Jackson & Perkins, Sur La Table, Restoration Hardware, ProFlowers, VivaTerra, NapaStyle and Norm Thompson.
Creekside designers create dozens of lovely wreath styles, some with cooking herbs, others with dried flowers and others with ribbons, bows and greenery for the holidays—in addition to swags, lavender sachets and centerpieces.
As the company grew, the Umbargers moved it from their ranch to a 20-acre farm just east of Highway 101 in Greenfield. Visitors are welcome with advance notice, and you can pick up wreaths there that you’ve pre-ordered on Creekside’s website.
The farm is a sensual delight, especially when everything is blooming in early summer. Rows of colorful herbs surround a work- shop that’s heady with the fragrance of herbs drying on wood and wire racks. There are purple-tinged ornamental oregano, marjoram, yarrow, ammobium, globe thistle, feverfew, cockscomb and a brand new deep magenta celosia—just to name a few. Everything is grown organically.
Lavender is Carol’s favorite crop. “Classic English and Spanish varieties don’t dry as well and are better for ornamental gardens,” she explains. “We plant a French hybrid, Lavandula intermedia gros bleu, which is brighter and taller.” She already grows seven acres of lavender at the King City ranch and is getting ready to put in another nine acres, which will make Creekside the largest lavender farm in the state.
Still, despite becoming a spectacularly successful national business—shipping wreaths all over the country—the family-run operation remains relatively unknown here at home.
So now, as the buy local movement is energizing consumers to seek out locally produced food and lifestyle products more than ever, Creekside’s focus is on raising its profile in the surrounding region. The hope is to increase direct online sales of their fragrant wreaths, especially with customers located right here in the Salinas-Monterey- Santa Cruz area.
On a personal note, the Umbargers were not only successful in their goal of using their wreaths to help send their kids to college— their business also now provides their boys with an opportunity to make a living while working together: Larry and Carol are handing the reins over to son, Allen, who is now general manager; his wife Teri, who is in charge of marketing and sales; son, Aaron, the company’s shipping manager; and son, Scott, who runs the farm. Even the eldest of the 11 Umbarger grandchildren works on the farm in the summer.
Just like the wreaths it creates, Creekside Farms is coming full circle.
Creekside Farms • 42195 Oak Ave., Greenfield 831.674.1234 • www.creeksidefarms.com