She may not have been there from Day One: When the Santa Monica Farmers market first opened, Amelia Saltsman was living in Malibu, running a cooking school, raising young children and driving to Camarillo to buy strawberries. But since she moved to Santa Monica more than 20 years ago, Saltsman, a writer, cooking teacher and producer-host of the cable-access TV program “Fresh From the Farmers Market,” has been a market regular and one of its most passionate boosters.
In August, she’ll publish “The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes and Stories From the Market and Farm,” celebrating and documenting the farmers market she loves, one that’s “a five-minute drive and a 20-minute walk” from her home.
Saltsman shops nearly every Wednesday at the Santa Monica market and speaks eloquently about the community she’s found there through the years -- about seeing neighbors, about becoming friends with other shoppers, about the sights and smells of tomatoes, peaches and zucchinis.
But she’s motivated by more than folksy sentiment for a neighborhood institution. It’s her contention that few people realize how this market, by influencing as it does “all the cooking coming out of Southern California,” is of national importance, and she hopes her book will contribute to its reputation as a crossroads of the contemporary food world.
The book has been many years in the making, though it wasn’t until the summer of 2005 that, she says, “I buckled down to it.” It includes recipes, conversations with farmers, descriptions of farm visits, descriptions of varieties of apples, potatoes, avocados and other produce, tips from chefs who are habitues of the markets, “how to choose” information on every vegetable or fruit featured in a recipe -- as well as indexes of crops by season, farm locations and websites, and recipes by season.
It grew from Saltsman’s previous market-related work: cooking demonstrations (staged at the market two or three times a year), market tour and menu classes presented through Sur La Table, and the six-episode “Fresh From the Market” television series that airs on Santa Monica City TV, cable channel 16.
Saltsman built some of the recipes in the book for those earlier projects. The green garlic and new potato soup, for example, is one of the first recipes she demonstrated at the market (in spring 1999).
She designed it to help shoppers get ideas for what might be unfamiliar produce (the green garlic) and to show how easily the tender crops of spring could be turned into a memorable dish (as demonstrated by the more than 300 small tastes she passed out to the demo audience).
Other recipes, such as chicken legs with kumquats, prunes and green olives, came about, Saltsman admits with amusement, because she was working her way down the list of all the crops sold by market farmers that hadn’t yet appeared in the manuscript.
Whatever the inspiration, and no matter whether she’s saying it at the demo stall in the market, on the Santa Monica city website or in her upcoming book, Saltsman’s message is consistent. If you use the market well, she says, you’ll discover “how easy it is to get a great meal on the table” because “the added value of such wonderful ingredients is that you don’t have to do much to them.”
Case in point: her recipe for a Persian-style herb and cheese platter. It resonates with tradition, highlights the Persian herbs that two farmers specialize in and suggests a way to use spring herbs that might not have occurred to many home cooks.
But as layered as the recipe might be, it’s essentially a shopping list and some appealing, concise ideas for presentation and serving.
It’s the kind of recipe that should inspire future readers to murmur what Saltsman says are her favorite words from cooking-demo onlookers: “I could do that.”