Author Archive | Edible East Bay

The Farmer’s Dilemma: Setting a Price

By Mike Madison, illustration by Helen Krayenhoff farmerdi

If you grow rice or wheat or corn or cotton, the price is set in the commodities futures trading markets. When you’re ready to sell, just check on your computer, and there’s the price. But if you grow specialty crops for sale at farmers markets, setting the price is up to you. Should these apricots be two dollars a pound? Four dollars? Six dollars? How do you decide? This question has puzzled me for years, and I’ve talked to a lot of farmers about it. Some have a definite system, most just see what everyone else charges, and set their price about the same.

Half the production of my farm is olive oil (the rest is apricots, berries, figs, melons, and flowers), and for the purpose of this essay, I’ll consider the price of a half-liter bottle of organic, extra virgin olive oil offered for sale at a farmers’ market. I come up with four possible prices.

The Just Price

Consider two customers at the market. The first is a young woman with three shabbily dressed small children in tow. In her hand is a stack of EBT tokens (food stamps). Obviously she’s poor, and her children, considering the likely hardship of their circumstances, are probably more in need of healthful food than anybody.… Read More

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Teff, Gomen, Mitmita, Senefgebs

Menkir Tamrat brings Ethiopian heirlooms to the East Bay 

menkir1By Patricia Hayse Haller

Like most of us, Menkir Tamrat has a special place in his heart for the foods he grew up with, foods he learned to make from his mother. He’s a passionate cook, and also has an urge to grow things. He believes with his whole heart that the best, most authentic food is made from fresh, locally grown crops.

But access to those items has been difficult for Tamrat, who grew up in Ethiopia, a land of ancient crops that are rarely grown in the United States. Until recently, the farm-fresh ingredients he needed to re-create the tastes of his homeland were 9,000 miles away.

Ethiopia was once the breadbasket of Africa and even Europe, and has long been identified as one of the world’s most important centers of biodiversity. But even while the country was exporting its grains, produce, meat, and coffee, it preserved a culinary heritage that is truly unique.

“Because the Ethiopian culture has been isolated for such a long time, the cuisine has resisted the melting pot,” said Tamrat. “Even the Italian occupation [from 1936 to 1941] did not seem to change the palate of the local people.”

A Unique Cuisineplateoffood

A typical Ethiopian meal is served from one large tray or basket set in the middle of the table.… Read More

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Something Spicy, Something Sweet: Tamales La Oaxaqueña

By Stephanie Rosenbaum tamales1with illustrations by Robert Trujillo

Fans of Oakland’s monthly gallery stroll, Art Murmur, know to come hungry. The food-truck row that springs to life on the first Friday of each month has become as much of a community draw as the art itself. Our favorite eats there this season? The vibrantly flavored banana-leaf tamales made by Oliva and Carolina Santos, the mother-daughter team of Tamales La Oaxaqueña.

What makes Tamales La Oaxaqueña stand out? Sitting on the curb with my plate one Friday night, I caught a sweet, leafy, almost tropical scent from the moist banana leaf wrapped around my red-mole chicken tamal. While banana leaves are used frequently in Oaxaca (as well as in Central America), they’re much rarer here, where the corn husk wrappers of northern Mexico prevail. Inside, the layer of masa is almost tortilla-thin, folded around a generous portion of shredded chicken bathed in a savory, sweet-spicy mole sauce.

A week later, Carolina invited me to the commercial kitchen space in East Oakland where she and her mother work. Walking up to the screen door, I could hear salsa music playing and smell the earthy, spicy fragrance wafting from an enormous simmering pot of black mole.… Read More

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Seven Stars of the Fall/Winter Season

By Jessica Prentice foodwheelad


Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are Jessica’s seven summer favorites. You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at .

leeksI find leeks the most user-friendly of the alliums. They don’t burn my eyes like onions do, aren’t a lot of work for little meat like shallots, and don’t make my fingers smell for days like garlic. It’s true that they don’t store as well as onions, but if you’re a regular farmers’ market shopper, you can pick up leeks each week and keep them in the fridge for when you need them. Some people think they are a lot of work to clean, since they often have dirt stuck in their inner layers. This is due to the growing method. Leeks lie buried in soil as they grow, which blocks the sun from getting to the developing stalk, keeping the white portion long and dense. Cleaning is actually quite easy: Cut away the root end and the green, tough upper portion, then slice the remaining portion so it forms rings.… Read More

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What’s in Season? Nuts!

walnutsBy Barbara Kobsar with illustrations by Helen Krayenhoff

With the shortening days of autumn, the falling of the leaves, and the distant thunder of the holiday season, I’m reminded that it’s time to gather nuts. It’s not just about squirreling them away, however. Nuts in the shell are at their freshest and best only once a year, at harvest time in autumn. Many local nut growers are currently bringing the new harvest to our markets.

Of course, stored nuts can be good to eat throughout the year, but only if they’ve been kept properly, since nuts are high in fat and are prone to rancidity. When storing them, keep in mind that they’ll do better in the shell than out; better whole than chopped, sliced, or ground; and better raw than roasted.

I use the word “nuts” loosely, since a biologist’s definition would exclude every item in your typical cocktail-party nut bowl except the hazelnuts. Peanuts are legumes, and all the rest of the nuts in a typical mix are really seeds. Four of my favorite local “nuts,” almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios, are the seeds of stone (or drupe) fruits.

(“A nut in botany is a simple dry fruit with one seed (rarely two) in which the ovary wall becomes very hard (stony or woody) at maturity, and where the seed remains attached or fused with the ovary wall.” —Wikipedia)

The more important fact about all these, whether they are true nuts or not, is that they are nutrient dense and have always been an important food source for man and beast, providing protein as well as essential fatty acids.… Read More

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Stylin’ Pie in Niles

nilespieeebCarolyn Berke dishes it up at Niles Pie

Story and photos By Katie Yen

How do you run a successful bakery without a storefront and without a commercial kitchen of your own? For Carolyn Berke, who lives in the Niles District of Fremont, the answer is as easy as, well . . .

. . . email, which she uses to blast forth the latest menu for her web-based bakery, Niles Pie Company .

All manner of enticing pies, coffee cakes, buns, bites, and breads appear on the e-newsletter, which may compel hungry e-customers to drop everything and visit immediately to place their orders. But those who can delay gratification long enough to continue reading will be rewarded by Carolyn’s amusing culinary adventures. Her repressed inner English major emerges as she recounts the incredible feat of reviving a hopeless eight-year-old sourdough starter, or describes watching in dismay as her new German shepherd pup terrifies her flock of egg-laying hens. She muses about lying awake all night haunted by visions of seasonal produce: “I’m trying out flavor and texture combinations in my imagination.”

But come morning, Carolyn is up and ready for action. She downloads the orders and heads to GourMade Cookery ( ), a shared commercial kitchen in Pleasanton where she rents space.… Read More

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Editor’s Mixing Bowl

graneryFor the past year, I’ve had on my kitchen table the beautiful piece of pottery pictured at left. It’s of a size that suggests it could be used to hold a freshly baked batch of cookies, but so far, there have been no cookies in it, nor anything at all for that matter. Instead it’s served as a point of contemplation.

Created by local potter Mary Law, the vessel is one in her series of “house pots.” She explains that the idea for these vessels germinated many years ago when she saw some photographs of West African granaries.

Made of adobe and covered with roofs of thatch, the granaries would have obvious resonance for a potter, but for me, a mere observer, the power of this piece is that it represents something larger than itself. More than a jar to hold cookies, a granary is a place where farmers store staples that will sustain their extended families and livestock, and perhaps even the entire village throughout the coming winter. It’s a symbol of food security and the intention of sharing those stores with the community.

I’m writing this as the fall harvest is at its peak and people are putting wine and olive oil into bottles.… Read More

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Lunch in Three Acts with Ariel

ariel093By Cheryl Angelina Koehler

Photos by Robin Jolin

“In certain villages in France, a light rain can be felt around noon in the narrow streets when people are shaking their lettuce dry out on their balconies.”

Ariel is telling me this as I reach for her “French salad spinner,” an old wire basket that I find hanging from a hook above her kitchen sink. I marvel at its elegant simplicity as I stuff it with bunches of her garden lettuce.

Taking it out to the front landing to shake over the potted strawberries, lettuces, and herbs, I can’t help feeling some disappointment that there are no pedestrians within range to shower. But more, I wonder why, after more than two decades of visiting Ariel’s Berkeley Hills home for conversation, celebration, and artistic collaborations, I have never noticed this basket hanging over the kitchen sink. After all, as I’m reminded each time I enter Ariel’s world, this is a place where everyday objects have vitality, dignity, and often an enchanting story as well.

To give a very brief biography, Ariel is the “pen name” of Ariel Parkinson, or, I should say, that’s how she signs her art, which includes painting, sculpture, and stage design, covering subjects that run from whimsical to political.… Read More

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Inspired by the Orchard

plumgorgeouscoverAmong the crop of newly published books that showed up on the Edible East Bay editorial desk this fall were two especially nice ones by local authors exploring the subject of fruit: Plum Gorgeous and From Tree to Table. As I turned the pages in both, I couldn’t help thinking about the way in which backyard fruit trees tend to be connected by strong emotional threads into our lives and memories. Perhaps it starts in childhood, when the trees’ generosity, along with their longevity and stature, makes them feel like benevolent caretakers. As adults, we may start to see the same trees as dependents requiring our attention for the likes of pruning, pest management, and harvesting duties, but they remain “family” in the way that the annuals in the vegetable patch are not . . . unless perhaps we get into seed saving.

In her new book, Plum Gorgeous, a collection of 62 fruit-centric recipes, Oakland-based writer Romney Steele expresses a sentimental longing for days spent living with her children in an orchard at Big Sur. The text shows both a child’s enjoyment of and an adult’s passion for a place, a lifestyle, and a way of eating. Steele is often cryptic about those memories, but she’s transparent with the recipes, and wildly inspiring as she guides the reader through the fruits of each season and how to savor them in simple recipes for appetizers, salads, main dishes, condiments, sauces, and of course, desserts.… Read More

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Got Olive Trees?

Community Milling at the Olivina in Livermoreolives

By Cheryl Angelina Koehler

evoobookcoverIn Chianti, warmly dressed locals arrive at the communal mill in trucks and station wagons with plastic containers or sacks filled with olives and with stainless steel vessels or wicker-covered glass jugs for transporting their oil home. Sometimes there is a little pushing and shoving in the line as these small-scale growers vie for a slot of time at the press. The sounds are high-pitched, the smells are heady, and there’s tension in the air.

As everyone awaits the result of their hard work and nature’s grace, good-humored banter alternates with tentative concern. The farmers often gather in the mill’s back room to smoke and drink wine, and to warm their hands over an open fire over which they will also toast bread for dipping into their new oil. The moment of truth arrives as fresh, young, murky oil finally spouts forth. A farmer’s olive harvest has the potential to keep the whole family, and even the city relatives, in olive oil for an entire year. —Peggy Knickerbocker, Olive Oil: From Tree to Table (Chronicle Books, 2007)

Here in 21st-century California, it’s hard to imagine a smoke-filled back room like the one where the olive farmers in the excerpt above are waiting.… Read More

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