Originally published on Greenopia.com in December 2007
I meet Amelia Saltsman at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Arizona on a Wednesday morning as she’s preparing for a cooking demo and book signing for her just-published book, The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook. She’s pushing a cart that is already loaded with cardboard boxes full of heirloom tomatoes when I greet her and then she stops to speak with a vendor about cucumbers. “Whatever’s best,” she tells him.
Next she selects a bunch of purslane and invites me to taste it. “A lot of people consider this a weed,” she says. “But it’s great to throw into salads.” She unloads the vegetables at a table in an area that’s being set up for her cooking demo before she making a final stop for olives and olive oil. She moves quickly through the crowd and navigates the cart with ease, stopping occasionally to greet others in her path and to invite them to come to her tent for food.
Today she is serving a plum crisp with a corn meal topping and tomato and cucumber bread salad-both recipes from her book-and she’s demonstrating how to make the salad. Under the tent, students from a local culinary school have already begun to prep for the day’s offerings, slicing the cucumbers and chopping tomatoes, as market shoppers approach to find out when the food will be ready. Two friends of Saltsman have also come over to help with the book sales and passersby have begun to thumb through the pages of a display copy.
“Look—you’re in it!” Saltsman says to a vegetable vendor when she walks over, opening the book to the “History of the Market” chapter that features portraits of smiling faces and still life shots of fresh produce from the market. Through her work in print and on TV as the host, writer, and producer of Fresh from the Farmers’ Market on Los Angeles cable TV, Saltsman has become an ambassador of sorts for the farmers’ market. The food stylist, teacher, and author had published numerous magazine and newspaper stories on her farmers’ market experiences when suddenly she had found a niche—and a platform to celebrate and support local farmers who produce sustainably and without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other additives. “I feel passionate that people need to understand what it takes to choose to be a small farmer, what it takes to get beautiful produce to market within 24 hours of harvest—and what a difference it makes to shop at a farmers’ market.”
The Los Angeles native’s own love of the farmers’ market is “about flavor and community,” she says. “I started as a shopper looking for delicious vine-ripened and tree-ripened and field-ripened ingredients. My passion for writing about farmers’ markets and farmers started with childhood food memories and childhood experiences shopping abroad in open air markets with relatives.” She fondly recalls foods from her youth and named her publishing company Blenheim Press for the Blenheim apricot tree from her childhood backyard. “We took it for granted but it has great importance to me.” Taking history for granted is not something that sits well with Saltsman, who is also passionate about the history of culinary arts and vintage cookery. For this, she also edits The Food Journal, a publication for the Culinary Historians of Southern California.
A sense of community is evident at the market today, just as Saltsman’s passion for food and cooking is revealed. At the table, she’s getting ready for her salad-making demonstration when a book-buying customer asks if she has a recommendation for a dinner for her son’s birthday. “Try Rustic Canyon,” Saltsman says, adding that the menu includes seasonal offerings from this same farmers’ market. “The chef is probably walking around right now getting food for the week.”
Quite a few books are sold—some purchase multiple copies and explain they’re starting their holiday shopping early—and quite a few more friends from the market stop by. A line forms and she needs to delay the cooking demo for a few minutes to sign books.
When she begins to make the salad, she tells her audience about the importance of using seasonal ingredients that are fresh and produced by local farmers. The time is right for heirloom tomatoes and she tosses them with pieces of bread (“it’s good to use day-old bread for this”), then the cucumbers. She’s using basil in the salad but encourages others to try different herbs they find or grow themselves. While working, she’s greeted by the chef from Wilshire restaurant and then the owner of Michael’s—both local restaurants that serve dishes made with farm-fresh ingredients they get here or directly from nearby farmers. “She knows what she’s talking about,” shouts Michael as he walks away with his full cart.
Also: Q&A with Amelia Saltsman