In her own words: Local author Andrea Chesman
Andrea Chesman’s latest cookbook is The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How: Field to Table Cooking Skills. Her other cookbooks include The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Serving Up the Harvest, and Mom’s Best Crowd Pleasers. She has also written a number of books on grilling, including the James Beard Award nominee The Vegetarian Grill. Andrea has contributed to many publications including the New York Times, Cooking Light, Vegetarian Times, Fine Cooking, and many regional and local newspapers. She teaches and leads cooking demonstrations and classes at fairs, festivals, book events, and garden shows across the United States. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.
On her first garden: I was still in college when I had my first garden. It was just a few square feet within a larger community garden. I remember a hot June morning, a 3-mile walk, a quart of orange juice in my backpack and my first harvest ever: snow peas. What a feast! Orange juice and snow peas. I was hooked on growing my own food from that point on.
On seasonal highlights in the garden: Each year, after a long Vermont winter, as the snow begins to melt away from the garden, I see shoots of the garlic I planted the previous fall poking out of the bare ground in neat, orderly rows. And I think, ah ha! Look at that! My garden is already growing, and I am, for the brief window in time, ahead of all the chores that lie in front of me.
I never buy asparagus from the supermarket. I am content to wait for my own asparagus bed to start producing. And produce it does! For the full month of June, we enjoy asparagus almost every night. Roasted, steamed, dipped in hollandaise or aioli, chopped up and slipped into a quiche or a chicken pot pie. I could, of course, pickle or freeze the excess, but I don’t. We just enjoy feasting on asparagus until we’ve had enough—and then we let the asparagus mature and prepare for production for another year.
On starting down the self-sufficient road: Self-sufficiency is a goal that many aspire to, but it isn’t an all or nothing deal. A few tomato plants and some herbs on a deck or patio is a start. To start, it’s a good idea to look at the assets and time that you already have and see what you can accomplish within that framework. Self-sufficiency can include buying raw materials (wood, cloth) or ingredients (fruit, vegetables, meat), and transforming them into the products you want to rely on. Making your own bread or granola does not mean you have to grow your own wheat or oats.
On trying new preservation techniques: It’s very rare that a home cook ever develops something new. We are all too busy raising our food (and our families!) to do much experimenting in the kitchen. Safety is always an issue for food preservation, so experimenting is risky – and maybe we don’t have resilience in our guts that people used to. On the other hand, there are tons of old ways that people are exploring. Fermenting foods is a way to preserve foods, and while there may not be many Koreans in Vermont, there certainly are plenty of people like myself making kimchi and finding new ways to enjoy it. Curtido is another pickle I make; it is the fermented cabbage of Central America, flavored with onion and oregano. What’s new these days is what’s old.
On some old favorites: I have a sourdough culture that has a pedigree dating back to the Yukon Gold Rush of 1896. I got it from a friend who got it from a member of his study group when he was in law school at Ann Arbor in the 1960s. This fellow got it from the guy across the hall, who got it from his father, a fish and wildlife ranger in Alaska, who got it from his secretary, who got it from her grandfather, who was a gold miner. I make my no-knead bread with this starter a few times a week.
My favorite homegrown food is probably raspberries—the season is short, the competition with the birds is fierce, and the flavor is perfect. We stand by the bushes and eat them as fast as we pick them.
On the best use of sauerkraut: Nothing improves a hot dog, a grilled cheese sandwich, or sausage like sauerkraut. That said, what I really like to do is incorporate kimchi into stir-fries, fish stews, and soups.