review by Kristina Sepetys

The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook:
Fresh-from-the-Garden Recipes for Gatherings

by the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and Olivia Rathbone
(Chelsea Green, 2015)

Out along the Bohemian Highway, on twisting, bucolic Coleman Valley Road in West Sonoma County you’ll find the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center. Established in 1994, the 80-acre Center works with schools, public agencies, Native American tribes, social justice organizations, and others to develop ecological literacy and to promote sustainability and community living. The owners and their children live communally on site.

A centerpiece of the organization is the organic “mother garden,” a living collection of more than 3,000 rare food crop varieties and multi-use plants. The garden produces enough organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers for thousands of meals each year. One of the favorite offerings is the 100-ingredient Mother Garden Biodiversity Salad Mix, made of heirloom lettuce, specialty kales, edible flowers, and common garden weeds.

Growing and eating food is one of the best ways to build and celebrate community, so it’s not surprising that these activities are an important part of life at the Center. Stories about people and activities there are woven throughout the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook, a beautifully photographed collection of 200 seasonal vegetarian recipes.

Co-authored by Olivia Rathbone, the organization’s cook and a lifelong farmer, the cookbook incorporates ingredients from all seasons and includes a great variety of weeds, flowers, herbs, nuts, fruits, mushrooms, and other forages like raspberries, chickweed tips, calendula, sweet flowers, tree collards, miner’s lettuce, wild fennel, and many other plants. Recipes may be scaled for just a few people or a large crowd, so it’s as valuable for cooking at home as it is for making dishes to share at parties, potlucks, and community events.

Find recipes like Carrot and Chamomile Soup, Summer Squash Ribbons with Purple Shiso, and Pepita-Encrusted Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Mint. There are cold vegetable plates for warm summer picnics and delicious-sounding salad dressing recipes for garden-fresh greens like Loquat Ginger, Golden Tomato Cumin, and Preserved Lemon Brine. Also included are many of the dishes the Center is known for, such as sauces and pestos and infused honey syrups for homemade cocktails. Satisfying desserts include Fresh Fruit Fools or the Cardamom-Rose-Plum Bars.