Down on the Farm with Didi Emmons

A pinch of spice, a frizz of crushed leaf, a scraped zest of citrus may be the secret ingredient that adds a smile to a dish, but the homegrown tomato is the essence of flavorful summer cuisine. The taste, its alchemy of sugars and acids, is so complex that it would take a paragraph of chemistry to deconstruct.

                                                                          – Paul Theroux, writing in The New Yorker

Didi Emmons, the cookbook author and restaurateur, joined the annual Tags cooking and home/kitchen celebration Saturday, assembling a delicious kale salad and promoting her latest cookbook, Wild Flavors: One Chef’s Transformative Year Cooking from Eva’s Farm.

Didi Emmons gets green at Tags home/kitchen event.

I’d wager that Didi’s mom didn’t spend a lot of energy pleading with her to eat her vegetables and try new foods (the way my mother did, to no avail). This is Didi’s third cookbook (all of them focused on greens). She’s also a veteran of local restaurants (she has helped to start and run four of them – most notably Veggie Planet in Harvard Square).

The Jamaica Plain resident crossed the river to give a cooking demo at Tags in Porter Square, which sports an impressive kitchen wares department.

Didi now works with Haley House Cafe Bakery, a nonprofit venture in Dudley Square, Roxbury. The cafe serves affordable, healthful food and operates a bakery training program for people transitioning from drug addiction, incarceration or homelessness. She also directs a program to teach inner-city, at-risk teens how to cook with whole foods, among consulting gigs and activities.

The day she first stepped foot onto a South Dartmouth farm named “Eva’s Garden,” she felt something change. “I was tasting everything,” Emmons told Meghna Chakrabarti on WBUR recently. “I knew it was all edible. But I couldn’t recognize every herb.”

More than a book about edible herbs, one comes away with a sense of Didi’s deep admiration for, and connection with, the farm’s guiding spirit, Eva Sommaripa.

Eva is described as a driven, uncompromising 70 year-old farmer growing exclusively for Boston’s top chefs. She started her bucolic slightly chaotic 2-acre organic farm 40 years ago. Eva hates waste. “When you grow food,” she says, “you realize how much work it is, how much energy and resources go into it.” When she came into possession of a fresh killed deer a while back, she exchanged it for kale.

[We’ll feature Didi’s take on kale, and a killer (but simple) recipe for it, in an upcoming post.]

LINKS:

– Meanwhile you can learn more about Didi at her Web site:
http://didiemmons.com

– Watch her make a couscous salad here:
http://how2heroes.com/videos/salads/israeli-couscous-w-african-basil-feta

– Or talk about Eva’s farm and those wild flavors here:
http://blip.tv/chelseagreentv/didi-emmons-and-wild-flavors-5608217

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