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Seven Springs Speaker Spotlight: Andrea Chesman, Gardening Chef

9/22/2011 9:20:02 AM

Tags: Seven Springs 2011, Speaker Spotlight, Real Food, Erica Binns

Get to know Andrea Chesman of Storey Publishing. 

Andrea ChesmanI’ll be cooking at the Mother Earth News Fair as I talk about my topics Mastering the Art of Stir-Frying, Can’t Cook Enough Kale and Cooking Winter Vegetables. I love to cook for others, and just about everything I have done in my life has led up to these particular cooking demos.

I put myself through college cooking at a Chinese restaurant. I was supposed to be a waitress, but I was a pretty poor waitress and I ended up doing prep work in the kitchen instead, looking over Mr. Wong’s shoulder as he cooked (and Mastering the Art of Stir-Frying, with special attention to the bottled condiments he stocked up on during his monthly sojourns to Chinatown in New York City). His cooking was fabulous, and the suppers he prepared for “the help” more than compensated for the low wages.

Because the job employed me through the summer, I stayed in my Collegetown apartment rather than go “home” to Troy, New York. On a whim, I decided to get a plot in a community garden. With absolutely no experience to guide me, I learned by doing. I put seeds into the ground and they grew! I was smitten with the idea of gardening.

Eventually, I picked up a useful trade – editing, mostly cookbooks – and settled in Vermont – one of many drawn “back to the land” in the 1970s and 1980s. Vermont was pretty amazing in the 1980s when I arrived. Land was still cheap, and our old-time neighbors found us back-to-the-land folks amusing. Our neighbors pulled us out of ditches on snowy nights, showed us the right way to prune apple trees, and let us help them with maple sugaring. Somehow, through laughing about our failures and sharing our successes, we learned about growing vegetables, canning our surpluses, and savoring vegetables we had never considered before, like turnips.

I was also drawn to work with NOFA-VT (the Natural Organic Farmers Association of Vermont). After years of anti-war and anti-nuclear work (I lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant happened), I was happy to work for positive change. I was done protesting.

I picked up a musician who was hitch-hiking with a homemade mandolin case in his hand and we married and had babies. Our gardens grew and shrank, I started writing cookbooks as well as editing them for others.

I was in my thirties when I cooked kale for the first time – in a stir-fry. None of us could believe that this delicious, cold-hardy vegetable was being wasted as a decorative green in deli cases and fish markets. I still meet people who haven’t ever tasted kale.

I wrote Serving Up the Harvest in 2005, following the growing season and giving each vegetable a chapter of its own. When it was done, my family kept asking for more kale, more collards, more winter squash. Our palates were stuck on winter vegetables. I obliged with another cookbook, Recipes from the Root Cellar.

I’m planning to hitch a ride on the Storey Publishing van to get to the Fair. I’ll be arriving with two coolers filled with vegetables and a suitcase dedicated to cooking equipment. I hope people come to my demos ready to eat. Is 10 am too early to enjoy Sichuan-Style Stir-Fried Greens?

Thanks for sharing, Andrea. We’ll see you at the FAIR! 

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Please visit the FAIR website for more information about the Seven Springs, Pa. FAIR September 24-25, and upcoming FAIRs in other locations.

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