connecting the dots with Eugenia Bone

Last Friday I wandered around New York City for the first time in I can’t remember how long. With a couple hours on hand before I was to meet and interview Eugenia Bone in her Soho loft, I did what anyone should do presented with a case of the Nervous Nellies: hot chocolate and rambling.Tomato yoga: a thank you gift for Eugenia (sprung loose from its padded wine-bag transport situation)My meandering session included City Bakery, a random tile shop (chatting with owners, a nice Scottish couple, about bread baking on a granite slab), the Union Square Greenmarket (buying another strawberry plant variety to really shake things up in my jar), three MTA trains, and finally Sunrise Mart (re-stocking my sweet rice flour, gluten-free baking arsenal.) Trekking around with a thank you gift for Eugenia in tow—my tallest, happiest German tomato seedling—was perhaps not the smartest idea I’ve had. Hopefully I just finished up the hardening off period for her seedling (and didn’t present my canning/preserving hero with a dead plant.) She appreciated it, nonetheless.You can’t bring someone a seedling without soil to get it going; that’s like passing the salt without the pepper.I arrived at Eugenia’s house feeling a bit like my seedling looked on her table, slightly sun-burned and physically exhausted from schlepping things around town all afternoon. At least I wore the jitters out of me.

Standing across from her in her kitchen, I perked up in no time (the verdict is still out on the plant.) She was making ramps pesto that afternoon, the recipe is posted on her blog.She poured us glasses of wine and fed me pickled fennel, cheese, and other samples from her be-jarred fridge (a new cippolini onions recipe, pickled fiddlehead ferns, last week’s ramps pesto to compare with this week’s “hot and grassy” version.)

I asked her a bunch of questions, the practical questions that have arisen from first forays into small-batch preserving. (I’m writing those questions and answers into the book next week.) I am apparently the first person to inquire about foam-skimming deficiencies. I’m glad Shae asked me to ask; now I know I’m not the only one.

She told me stories about coming of age with a super-chef dad like Ed Giobbi. Why small-batch canning is the only way to go (except for tomatoes.)  She told me about her current book project, an exploration of the fungi family, and how every organism on the earth is not only endo-symbiotic but also has a fungal partner (without which, it fails to thrive.)

She’s incredibly easy to converse with, her voice and person a soothing and warm compliment to her practical, logic-inspired, entirely-accessible book.

Speaking of access. I know you want to see the goods. She showed me her fridge, and her larder.the famed preserved tuna!We talked about the kitchen ecosystem and how making things yourself actually improves your kitchen’s efficiency (not to mention the flavor of foods produced from there.) How homemade basics, certain staples, make your kitchen ecosystem shine. We discussed how to make stock from what you’ve got in the fridge (not things you go out and buy to specifically make stock.) We talked about how there is no real originality in recipes, and how it’s a bummer that people are all about taking credit for things that have existed throughout time.Talk about Slow Food! A snail appeared from her supper greens, charting its way bravely across her countertop. She released it into the Soho fire escape network.After an afternoon of discussing all things kitchen, Eugenia sent me home with a copy of her first book, At Mesa’s Edge, for J, my own culinary queen. And a jar, of course.Our risotto won’t know what hit it.More over, she sent me home with a renewed confidence in myself. None of my novice questions made her balk or laugh.

My favourite moment of the afternoon had nothing to do with jars or food or how reasonably she answered my questions: the moment her 19-year-old daughter came in the kitchen adorned in a pair of high-waisted linen pants Eugenia wore when she was her daughter’s age. A tender, swelling moment that made me feel a thousand years old. Poets’ moments, fabric of humanity moments.

In other news, Eugenia’s great book, Well-Preserved, was nominated for a Single Subject Book Award at the James Beard Foundation Awards last night. She commented on the inspired wave of canning and preserving: “The new generation are fighting the good fight. Today’s young canners are soulful people.” (via The James Beard Foundation’s live Twitter feed)

She won in my book (surely the selection committee hasn’t ever tried to can/preserve anything using just the Ball books.)