Decades before farm-to-table became a buzz phrase, Janet Fletcher was living and breathing the concept. Enamored by the farmers markets of Provence as a college student, she enrolled in cooking school, paving the way to a two-year stint at Chez Panisse, the renowned organic food temple in Berkeley, California. There, she dug deep into the stories of family-owned farms, and eventually became a widely respected columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Today, with multiple James Beard Foundation awards and dozens of cookbooks to her credit, Fletcher lives with her winemaker husband in Napa Valley, where she continues to write, teach cooking and cheese classes, and tend to her terraced garden.
In “Wine Country Table: With recipes that celebrate California’s sustainable harvest,” she assumes the role of culinary tour guide, bypassing trend-setting restaurants and taking us straight to the sources of the sustainable food movement.
From California’s foggy northern coast down to its sunny south, we meet the people who nurture those crops and, through lushly photographed settings, imagine dining with them as they share their passions around picnic tables filled with the fruits of their labor. Pulling us in with her elegant writing voice, Fletcher gives us a glimpse into their cutting-edge growing techniques that encompass crops once considered exotic, including lemongrass, radicchio, pomegranates and kiwi.
Chapters are divided by region, with seasonal recipes highlighting the produce grown within each, along with wine suggestions: Grilled Pork Loin, Sausage, and Fig Skewers matched with a California Zinfandel or Petite Sirah, for instance; or Shrimp, Artichoke, and Farro Salad paired with a California Chardonnay or sparkling wine.
Flipping through these captivating pages has me dreaming about a long, slow driving tour through this sumptuous region. For now, I’m bookmarking ideas for my next farmers market shopping spree, followed by a trip to the wine store to put me in a California state of mind.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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