Cultivating Vegetable Literacy with Deborah Madison

22 Aug

Deborah Madison is a writer, chef, and cooking teacher living and gardening in Northern New Mexico. Known for her many vegetarian cookbooks, Deborah spoke with us about local food, gardening, eating, and her new book. Rebecca Heller-Steinberg had the opportunity to interview Deborah, and her full article can be found in the fall issue of New York Organic News.

Sign up today to host a Locavore Challenge Harvest Dinner and you could enter to win a signed copy of Deborah’s latest cookbook, Vegetable Literacy.

Tell us about your new book, Vegetable Literacy.

My main intention in the book is to introduce vegetables in a different way, instead of by so-called season or by dishes. It’s really a way of introducing people to the idea of plant families—just the twelve that include the most common vegetables and herbs we cook with. It’s about showing what plants are related to each other and how they might behave similarly in the kitchen.

What do you hope readers will get from this book?

I hope readers might get a sense of joy. It’s so much fun when you begin to get connected to your world. So if you begin to become aware of plant families and some of their similarities and what you can expect to find physically as characteristics, it’s very exciting.

What I hope farmers take home is the importance of sharing more information with their customers. Most of us see only certain parts of vegetables. Farmers can do a lot if they’re able to show us something more, like how big an entire leek is. If people knew how many feet of leaves there are on a single leek plant, I think they’d be kind of surprised—and impressed. I hope it stimulates an appetite for knowledge.


Do you have any suggestions for what you think we as gardeners, cooks, eaters, and farmers can be doing to be prepared for unpredictable weather and climate change?

That’s an interesting question and a big question. I don’t know how to answer that and I think about it a lot for farmers. One of the things I did in my garden is try out a new crop. I was reading about field peas, a drought tolerant pea planted in the South and originally from North Africa. I tried growing them in my garden and they worked really well for me. So perhaps we should be thinking about trying [unfamiliar crops that are adapted to similar climates.] I think that questions about weather and climate change are going to involve cultural changes too.

Do you have any embarrassing or guilty pleasures when it comes to food?

I hate the guilty pleasure question. I don’t believe in guilt and food, I really don’t. I don’t have things that I go and hoard. I may have excess sometimes. Yesterday’s lunch was a lunch of excess, which I paid for this morning when I was in my spin class. But you know, it was an excess of really good wines and really good food and good company and sitting around far too long.


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