An interview at TRAX Gallery

In a case of perfect timing, Deborah Madison came to town at the height of berry and stone fruit season to discuss her latest cookbook, Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market (Broadway, 2010). The famed founding chef of Greens restaurant in San Francisco is the author of 11 cookbooks, beginning with The Greens Cookbook and including Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Local Flavors, all of which celebrate seasonal vegetarian food. The beautiful photographs in Seasonal Fruit Desserts, Deborah’s first dessert book, feature handmade ceramics, including white porcelain dishes made by Sandy Simon of TRAX ceramics gallery in Berkeley. At a book signing at TRAX, Sandy and Deborah gave the following interview.

Carolyn Miller: Deborah, why did you decide to write about fruit desserts?

Deborah Madison: Well, I like desserts! I love making desserts. I actually started out in pastry, and worked as a pastry chef several times. I always put desserts in my books, and that’s always what I want to bring to a party. But when I started out with the idea of doing a dessert book, it wasn’t originally about fruit. I wanted to call it Desserts for the Pastry Impaired, for people who are nervous about making piecrust, because I can be nervous about making piecrust. I don’t really have a pastry chef mentality; I’m more of a cook who likes to make desserts. I wanted to make desserts that were accessible and straightforward, and that naturally led to fruit.

CM: This book is such a nice collaboration between handmade pottery and homemade food. Sandy, the website for TRAX points out that your gallery specializes in “functional pottery.” Could you talk a bit about that?

Sandy Simon: I went to school at the University of Minnesota, where I learned to make pottery that is meant to be used, rather than ceramic sculpture. I always think about food when I’m making pots. In fact, I probably think about food way too much! I started working in porcelain when I lived in Georgia. Color shows up better on porcelain, which is why chefs love this surface for food. There is no better way of sharing community than with a meal using wonderful pots.

CM: Deborah, where can people find good fruit?

DM: You’re not going to find it in the supermarket. Fruit suffers so much in the hands of industrial agriculture, to the point that it’s now being bred to be hard, crisp, and sweet. Even at farmers markets, you have to be careful. Some farmers like to be first with their unripe plums, or this awful new fruit. The best way is to taste the fruit, smell it by all means, ask its name, where it comes from. It’s especially important to know its name, so you can ask for—or avoid—it again.

CM: As you say in the introduction to this book, real fruit is “amazing stuff, full of aroma. . . . Ripe fruit broadcasts its fragrance, announcing to a passing bird or beast that it’s ready to be eaten. . . . The lure of fruit should be equally powerful to us human animals. Anything less is like eating shadows.”

DM: And great fruit probably isn’t going to just come to us. We have to be active hunter-gatherers to find it, but the effort will always be worth it.

Carolyn Miller is a writer, book editor, and poet living in San Francisco. Her most recent book of poetry is Light, Moving, from Sixteen Rivers Press.

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