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Farmers' Market Desserts
By Jennie Schacht

Taylor's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables: A Complete Guide to the Best Historic and Ethnic Varieties
By Benjamin Watson

New Life for Old Vegetables

A few years ago, thousands of old-fashioned varieties of vegetables were on the verge of going extinct, run over by the stampede among commercial farmers toward high-yield hybrid varieties. The risk of extinction remains very real for many old varieties, but a vigorous grassroots movement championing the virtues of the open-pollinated heirlooms is working hard to reverse the tide.

Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables offers a capsule history, growing tips and a word about the culinary virtues of more than 500 of the best of them. The book carries photographs of some of the more spectacular looking of the bunch, including Tom Thumb Corn, Boothby’s Blonde Cucumbers, Hopi Orange Lima Beans and Zapotec Ribbed Tomatoes.

The 343-page book should prove to be a useful resource for both farmers market farmers and shoppers. Farmers markets, after all, are a marketing outlet where many old varieties, rejected by commercial packers for their odd shapes, lack of uniformity and fragility, are in the midst of a dramatic comeback.

Heirloom Vegetable Gardening
By William Woys Weaver

For the Love of Heirlooms

William Woys Weaver has a deep, personal connection with heirloom vegetables. The noted food historian and author can trace his lineage back to early colonial times and several of his ancestors were famous botanists and plant collectors. Weaver, himself, has a collection of more than 2,000 old-fashioned varieties that he has gathered together over the years and in his half-acre garden in Pennsylvania, he grows as many as 250 of them each year.

His latest book, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, is an encyclopedic guide to several hundred of his favorites. His strong personal attachment to his plants is apparent in many of the descriptions. "Portugal cabbage is just plain fun," he writes of one showy plant. Musselburgh leeks were one of his great-grandmother’s favorites, he writes in another passage before tracing the origins of the variety back to the 1800s in France.

He deflates the mythology surrounding another well-known heirloom, the Brandywine Tomato, which is perhaps the best known heirloom in the United States and has become practically a poster crop for the movement that has gained momentum in recent years to save vintage vegetable varieties from extinction.

Widely available in farmers markets these days, it has "the lusciousness of Burgundy wine and tastes as though parsley has been scattered over it," says Weaver. Though it is commonly described as having Amish origins, the Brandywine was actually a commercial variety introduced by the Johnson & Stokes seed company in 1889, Weaver asserts. The reason the variety never caught on in a big way is that its thin skin prevented it from being shipped long distances. So commercial growers never adopted it and the tasty tomato eventually attained heirloom status.

That story illustrates one point that Weaver makes repeatedly in the book. The taste buds of American consumers are the main beneficiaries of the heirloom revival. "The basis of good cookery is the kitchen garden, for without it, the chef is nothing," he writes. "The hoe is merely a tool of the kitchen."

Terrific Pacific Cookbook
By Anya Von Bremzen and John Welchman

Terrific Tastes of the Pacific Rim

This book was inspired by the authors’ two-year sojourn in the early 1990s in Australia, which they were surprised to learn is the home of a cosmopolitan, creative cuisine steeped in the flavors of Asia.

"Australasian food is the Pacific equivalent of border cuisine, like Tex-Mex in the American Southwest. It is multicultural eating at its best," writes Anya Von Bremzen in the introduction. She and her writing partner John Welchman, who previously collaborated on a James Beard Award winning Russian cookbook, spent the next two years traveling throughout the Pacific Rim region, including a lengthy stay in California, which is awash with many Asian culinary influences.

The hardest part of producing the Terrific Pacific, they write, was deciding which 200 recipes from among the thousands they tested would best capture the cuisine of a region that encompasses dozens of distinctive cultures and spans three continents.

Among the recipes in the book that would be of most interest to shoppers at California farmers markets, where many once-exotic Asian items are now commonplace, include Eggplant in Cilantro Sauce, Asparagus and Snow Peas with Mirin Dressing, Indian Okra Saute and Spicy Tomato Chutney.

Patricia Wells at Home in Provence
By Patricia Wells

Patricia Wells Gets Rustic in Provence

Patricia Wells, the restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune, has lived in Paris since 1980. Several years after moving to Paris, she and her husband bought a farm in Provence, with a 19th Century farmhouse called Chateduc and 10 acres of overgrown orchards and vineyards. The land, itself, and her neighbors in the surrounding countryside and nearby villages were a "living food encyclopedia," and their culinary lore is reflected in the 175 recipes in Patricia Wells at Home in Provence, interspersed with tips about how to select the best fresh produce and illustrated with large, glossy photographs of food ingredients, the Provencal countryside, Chanteduc and the markets, wineries and cheese shops of the region’s villages.

One of Wells’ earlier cookbooks was co-written with Joel Robuchon, the famed Parisian chef known for his elegant, complex, multi-step dishes. But in this book, most of the recipes are supremely simple, calling for just half a dozen ingredients, reflecting the rustic life she lived, at least on weekends, at Chateduc.

Among the recipes in the book are ones for Fresh Beans with Garlic and Herbs, Caramelized Fennel Soup and the All-Star Herb Salad, a mix of parsley, chives, dill, tarragon and mint.

The Vegetable Market Cookbook: Classic Recipes From Around the World
By Robert Budwig

An Artist's Tour of Farmers Markets

Robert Budwig visited farmers markets around the world, from France to Morocco to India to Thailand to Santa Barbara, California, drawing colored pencil sketches of the produce on display and the farmers proudly offering their wares. Before long, the superficial descriptions of the markets in The Vegetable Market Cookbook all begin to sound the same. The piles of produce are all colorful and fragrant, the farmers are all smiles as they proudly display the fruits of their harvest, the shoppers everywhere carefully search out the very best produce, and the market scenes as a whole are, well, colorful and fragrant. The recipes presenting the cuisine of the country whose markets Budwig has just described are not particularly well integrated with the passages about the market visits. But they have been selected, by someone other than Budwig, to make use of the produce he found, making the book itself an interesting – and handsomely illustrated – addition to any collection of farmers market cookbooks. For those looking for well-researched culinary lore in a travelogue format other books, such as Terrific Pacific, covering the Pacific Rim, and Patricia Wells at Home in Provence, would be better bets.

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef