Deborah Madison's new book, Local Flavors, is as densely packed
as a CSA produce box with everything from local nuts - Wisconsin
Hickory and California Green Pistachio's - to foraged mushrooms,
Charentais melons and huckleberries. Madison celebrates the
regional diversity available at farmer's markets across the
country and makes a strong case for why corporately grown
food and long-haul distributors no longer need control our
food choice or access to variety.
Interspersed throughout the book are essays on regional specialties,
farming and the real essence of agriculture - a connection
to the land. As author and gentleman farmer Wendell Berry
so aptly stated, "Eating is an agricultural act." Madison
makes agriculture come alive for her readers by taking them
to the fields. She introduces them to how varieties of items
are grown - Belgium endive and heirloom peaches- the art of
harvesting and the costs of weather and then she brings it
all to the table.
Local Flavors can be summed up in one word - diversity. Madison's
passionate curiosity is unfailing. She talks with everyone
from Kent Whealy of the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa
who save, catalog and sell heirloom seeds, to Eliot Coleman,
known for his extensive winter farming in Maine. She's not
cashing in on the latest food trend either. Rather, she's
taking us to an overdue revival. As one of the farmers, Richard
McCarthy of New Orleans says, "For us, food says what's best
about our region, and that we have a food culture worth preserving.
There's a regional pride here and everywhere that makes one
place different from another."
The book layout is by botanical family and regional seasons,
not by menu. It's an effective way to mingle like-products
with a variety of preparations. Local Flavors isn't a thick
glossy designed to romanticize farm life but, like a farm
report, it puts the broader farming culture into context.
Standing in a field and watching a summer storm wipe out a
crop is a strong lesson in economics. Talking with heritage
peach farmer Mas Masumoto at his California market (author
of Epitaph for a Peach) you can sample a succulent peach and
debate commercial vs. quality production.
The recipes reflect the vast variety available in regional
markets and redefines product uniformity in Madison's terms;
uniformity lies in the products extraordinary taste, not in
its shape or size. Above the recipes, she weaves handling
suggestions for less familiar products with broader ideas
to launch cooks in other prep directions (with the added bonus
of knowing where you might land).
The resources in the back of the book are a bit sparse but,
at the same time, this book isn't about hand-holding. Madison
encourages her readers to make their own connections and discoveries
in their local communities. Ultimately, this bringing together
is what getting back to the land is all about.
To find the farmers' markets nearest you, look at The National
Directory of Farmers' Markets, a USDA publication, www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets
and get out there.
Written By: Mari Coyne
Mari Coyne wanders the culinary alleys and fields looking
for curious people and stuff to photograph and write about.
After a nearly 5 year run, she sold her interest in Three
Tarts Bakery, to pursue her original interests in journalism,
agriculture, documentary photography, culinary history and
FBI Most Wanted posters. She's single, cute (occasionally,
but rarely, cranky), willing to move and refuses to work retail