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Sherman Gardens group brings ‘First Monday Coffee’ menu to the masses in new cookbook

The Sherman Library and Gardens' Volunteer Assn. created "First Monday Coffee," with recipes from 25 years of meetings.
The Sherman Library and Gardens’ Volunteer Assn. created a “First Monday Coffee,” with recipes from 25 years of meetings. The cookbook debuts Thursday at a Holiday Gift Faire at the gardens.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Most of the magic that happens at Sherman Library and Gardens is available to the visiting public, but for decades a casual breakfast meeting among members of the site’s volunteer association, and the goodies therein, have been private — until now.

On the first Monday of each month before the Corona del Mar botanical gardens opens its doors, volunteers come together to enjoy one another’s company, catch up on current events and, of course, eat.

A well-appointed buffet table replete with casseroles and baked goods is ensured by a faithfully circulated sign-up list assigning main dishes, pastries and fruit displays to willing volunteers. Over the years, the table has amassed quite a culinary spread.

Volunteers of Sherman Library and Gardens gather for a First Monday Coffee meeting on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“It’s kind of like a coffee klatch. There’s no meeting agenda, no banging of the gavel,” Sherman Gardens’ spokeswoman Beverly Morgan said of the long-standing tradition. “They set it all up, then they’re done by 10:30 when the garden opens. And the food is extraordinary.”

Now, for the first time ever, members are sharing their best recipes in a “First Monday Coffee” cookbook that’s available for purchase and will debut Thursday at Sherman Library & Gardens’ Holiday Gift Faire fundraiser, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Proceeds will support children’s education programs at the gardens.

Although volunteers lend helping hands to practically anything that needs doing at the garden, association members began preparing and serving coffee, tea and sweet rolls out of the site’s Tea Garden sometime around 1980, a few years after the organization’s formation in 1975.

Banana bread and Irish apple cake on display at a Nov. 1 First Monday Coffee meeting at Sherman Library & Gardens.
Banana bread and Irish apple cake are among the many homemade food items Monday at a First Monday Coffee meeting at the Sherman Library & Gardens.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“At first it was just tea and some pastries, then it grew to be more,” said Newport Beach resident Julie Jenkins, who joined the association during its first year.

The menu expanded to include soup and other items volunteers made in their homes and brought in. Eventually, the service moved to the café building and grew to two days each week.

Under the direction of a paid chef, volunteers prepared food and waited on tables in the Central Garden patio. But when the chef retired so too did the lunch program, depriving garden volunteers of the conviviality they’d come to enjoy, said Joan Carter, a member since 1979.

Joan Carter, left, and Julie Jenkins model aprons with the cover art for "First Monday Coffee."
Joan Carter, left, and Julie Jenkins, who started volunteering at the Sherman Gardens in the ‘70s, model aprons with cover art for the cookbook “First Monday Coffee.”
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“We didn’t have any waitressing to do anymore,” the Newport Beach resident recalled. “That’s what had kept the group together, so everyone was floundering.”

Then-President Dorothy Franklin (1996-98) proposed holding a social meeting where volunteers could continue to meet on a regular basis and bring their best food items from home. Now, First Coffee Monday is celebrating its 25th year.

During a recent meeting, members lined up to sample casseroles, breakfast bakes and quiches. A variety of baked goods, from gingerbread to brownies, enticed those seeking sweets, while fruit salads and a vivid pineapple display provided a pop of color. About 60 or more volunteers and docents, seated at long tables, chatted between bites.

Sherman Gardens volunteer Karin Zenk attends a First Monday meeting at the garden on Monday.
Sherman Gardens volunteer Karin Zenk, at a First Monday Coffee meeting at the garden, began collecting recipes from the group’s extensive food offerings in 2015.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

“This is the only time we’re together as a whole group, when we can laugh and share our friendship,” said Joanne Padour, a Newport Beach resident and keeper of the food sign-up sheet. “People are always willing to sign up. Everybody likes to share recipes, because we love food.”

Member Karen Zenk said she began collecting recipes in 2015. For the “First Monday Coffee” cookbook, she sought contributions from nearly 125 members willing to share their recipes and stories with a wider audience.

“It kind of gives you an idea of what happens in their households and gives a warm sense of sharing,” she said Monday. “There are so many good cooks in our group.”

The cookbook costs $24 and launches Thursday at the Sherman Gardens’ Volunteer Assn.’s Holiday Gift Faire, which features unique and handmade holiday items, gifts, holiday plants and fresh-baked cookies. The annual event is one more way for the group to come together for a cause.

“Working in the garden, planting and preparing food, when you do things with people that’s how your friendships grow,” Jenkins said. “I keep coming back because of the friends.”

Julie Jenkins, a volunteer at Sherman Gardens since 1975, attends a "First Monday Coffee" meeting.
Newport Beach resident Julie Jenkins, who started volunteering at the Sherman Gardens in 1975, attends a Nov. 1 “First Monday Coffee” meeting.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

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