Seven Springs Speaker Spotlight: Andrea Chesman, Gardening Chef

Reader Contribution by Erica Binns
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Get to know Andrea Chesman
of Storey Publishing.

I’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!

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

You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter