Eva and Jessica look at the raised beds. Eva’s house is in the distance. (Photo: Bruce Gellerman)
Waste not, want not, could be the motto of gardener Eva Sommaripa. She uses all parts of the plant when cooking and eats weeds. Eva’s garden is the subject of a new book by chef Didi Emmons called Wild Flavors: One Chef's Transformative Year Cooking from Eva's Farm. Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman and Jessica Ilyse Kurn went down to the farm to see what was fresh for the picking.
CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Three hundred and ninety years ago English Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians gathered for a 3-day feast along Plymouth Bay - sharing what they had, thankful for their harvest. Not far from that place today is Eva’s Garden: a small, but unusual farm that’s the subject of a new cookbook “Wild Flavors.”
It’s by chef Didi Emmons, who spent a year with Eva Sommaripa learning how to barter with neighbors, forage for food, and live a simple, self-sufficient life. Living on Earth’s Bruce Gellerman and Jessica Ilyse Kurn visited Eva’s Garden - and have our story:
KURN: Okay Bruce, I think it’s coming up. Make a right here on Allen Neck Road.
GELLERMAN: This part of southeast Massachusetts once belonged to the Wampanoag. Early European settlers purchased it from tribal chiefs for 30 yards of cloth, some moose-skins, axes, shoes and an iron pot.
KURN: Oh, it’s amazing - look at the horses. I could live here.
GELLERMAN: It’s a bucolic landscape: rolling hills and green fields, black-and-white cows, and stonewalls. We pass a bird sanctuary and a winery.
KURN: Jordan Road - here we are. Turn right on Jordan road.
GELLERMAN: About 40-years ago, Eva Sommaripa came here to South Dartmouth. She fell in love with the place - stayed and tried her hand at farming; growing herbs and greens for her family.
KURN: Here we go. That must be it.
[CAR STOPS, DOOR OPENS]
KURN: Today, Eva’s home garden has grown into a commercial boutique farm. She raises 250 different kinds of organic vegetables and herbs. She sells them to restaurants from New York City to Portland, Maine. Eva built her home herself - two stories, blue shingles. Cords of wood stacked high in neat piles.
GELLERMAN: Boy, look at all of this wood. Boy, they’re prepared.
[SOUNDS OF WALKING, KNOCKING ON DOOR]
EMMONS: Hello? Hi, I’m Didi.
KURN: I’m Jessica.
EMMONS: Hi, Jessica.
GELLERMAN: Hi, I’m Bruce… Didi Emmons was one of those chefs who bought Eva’s greens. Over the years, they became best friends - sharing recipes and swapping stories. Didi writes about some in her book “Wild Flavors.”
KURN: Eva and Didi could pass for mother and daughter; the same high cheek bones and dimples… frizzy hair topped by floppy knit hats, which they wear, even indoors.
[SOUND OF MOVING CHAIRS]
EMMONS: Do you guys want something to drink? I have lemongrass … lemon verbena tea…
KURN: Eva sets out cups. She has farmer’s hands: hard working and strong.
GELLERMAN: Didi pours the tea.
[SOUND OF TEA POURING]
EMMONS: Lemon verbena has a lot of healing qualities as do most herbs, so…
KURN: Didi teaches cooking to inner city kids. She started Haley House Bakery Café in Boston. It’s run by people once homeless or in prison. But she spent most of last year at Eva’s garden.
GELLERMAN: How did you meet her?
EMMONS: She sent me a fax. I was opening a restaurant. And it was the third restaurant that I had opened in Boston. And she had written in the margins, saying good luck with your restaurant, and I was so tickled and flattered that she even knew me. I had been hearing about her for years in restaurants.
GELLERMAN: When you were writing this book, she was front and center in your mind? This was about her farm and your recipes, your food. How did you get the mix?
EMMONS: Well, I originally thought I could write about the inner city youth that I teach and Eva at the same time in a book, and I tried to work with that for a while and then it just came to me that I really had to choose one or the other.
And I really wanted to write about Eva while she was still farming, I mean she’s 70 now. And there is so much that I want to capture here that I just decided for this book I would focus on Eva. You know, she's kind of a back-to-nature kind of a farmer, but it’s like way back to nature.
[SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS OUTSIDE]
GELLERMAN: Outside, the air is crisp and salty - the ocean isn’t far. Didi and I sit on a log near a tractor.
KURN: And Eva heads for her shed. On her belt - a leather holster with the tools of her trade: pruning shears, scissors and marking pen. She grabs a pitchfork and sets off for her garden.
[WALKING, CRUNCHING SOUNDS]
KURN: How big is your farm?
SOMMARIPA: I actually have about somewhere between two and three acres actually cultivated and a lot more woods and we’re actually growing some … right in that area there are shitake mushroom logs.
KURN: Eva plants the usual: kale, carrots and peas, as well as the unusual: cardoon, bronze fennel and calaminth. What she doesn’t grow, she finds by foraging: wild mushrooms, wood sorrel and goosefoot.
SOMMARIPA: I call these garlic greens. Have a bite. It’s very fresh.
[SOUNDS OF EATING, CRUNCHING ON GARLIC GREENS]
KURN: At the peak of the harvest, Eva puts 15 pickers to work. Now, she’s prepping her raised beds and fields for winter. She takes her pitchfork and heads for a stand of tall, dry stalks and starts hacking away.
[SOUNDS OF HARVESTING SUNCHOKES]
KURN: She says they’re sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes.
SOMMARIPA: So these are … this area was actually, we never planted any of these this year. They are all leftover. We thought that we had taken every single one out from the previous year, and nevertheless, we hadn’t and they all grew back.
KURN: All of this work for just those little tiny roots?
SOMMARIPA: Well, we’re hoping to find some more of these bigger tubers. These are called tubers - these little underground parts. See there’s a pile over there of the stalks.
[RUSTLING PLANT SOUNDS, WALKING]
KURN: It’s the compost pile - covered in weeds. Weeds are vilified by most gardeners, but glorified by Eva.
SOMMARIPA: This is interesting too: on the compost pile here - this is a big compost pile - this is not the kitchen garbage one - and on it we put all of the weeds that we pull up and plants that are finished and spent and done. And a lot of them will start growing again on here, or sow their seeds.
And here we have some really nice chickweed - alias Stellaria - which is looking beautiful on the compost pile. And some … I mean, look at the size of that. This is a weed, but the leaf is at least an inch long. And I’m going to eat it because it’s so good.
[SOUND OF MUNCHING ON WEEDS]
KURN: Straight from the compost pile.
SOMMARIPA: Straight from the compost.
KURN: Eva turns the invasive plant in the field into a savory snack.
GELLERMAN: But Chef Didi Emmons says it’s in the kitchen where Eva really cooks.
GELLERMAN: Oh wow, look at this compact kitchen!
EMMONS: It is the most compact kitchen. You could feed an army in here. And it's kind of a galley kitchen. Makes you feel like you’re in a ship, doesn’t it?
GELLERMAN: Yeah, if I stand in the middle and stretch my arms to either side, that would be the width.
EMMONS: And it stores so many pieces of equipment, you wouldn’t believe. You could do anything that you could imagine in here. She’s got all kinds of food mills and processors, and there's more storage way back up here. Her refrigerator is like a science experiment. She’s constantly salvaging stocks and reductions and juices from what she cooks. And then she concocts other things from that.
SOMMARIPA: Let me open the fridge. We have some pickles that we made when cucumbers were abundant. And actually the pickles are gone, but I saved the pickle water to use as salad dressing and for pickling other things.
In here: sassafras root, which I think makes the greatest sorbet when you combine it with rum and maple syrup. And, you can smell - it smells like root beer.
EMMONS: What I like about her fridge is that there aren’t any bright yellow and red labels from companies. I mean everything here is just in jars and plastic containers and bags.
SOMMARIPA: There’s venison marinating in beer. Which is stale beer left over from a party at another farm from down the street. Nobody finished the keg of beer, and so they gave it to us. And we have a neighborhood expert bow hunter, who helps us keep the population under control and provide for delicious meals.
GELLERMAN: Well, I want to talk about your philosophy. I mean who would cook with stale beer? This is like: waste not, want not.
GELLERMAN: But the notion is you waste nothing. Nothing goes to waste.
SOMMARIPA: I try to waste nothing. (Laughs)
GELLERMAN: Did you start off saying consciously: I want to live sustainably; I want to live with a low-carbon footprint? Or is this just who you were?
SOMMARIPA: It’s just evolved.
KURN: It said in your book you haven’t been to a supermarket in 10 years. So how do you get things like olive oil, you know, cooking things that don’t grow around here?
SOMMARIPA: The olive oil I actually trade with friends who import olive oil from Italy and they have free picking of greens in my garden anytime, and whenever I run out of very good olive oil they replenish.
GELLERMAN: And right then, as if on cue, there’s a knock on the back door.
KURN: It’s Felicity Forbes-Hoyt, Eva’s neighbor from just down the road. She’s got Wellingtons on her feet and a basket in her hand.
FORBES-HOYT: She’s very generous with her produce, and so, her neighbors come and get salad whenever we are hungry.
GELLERMAN: So you can just come right over here and grab some greens and say, "thanks Eva?"
FORBES-HOYT: Yup, exactly.
GELLERMAN: What do you give her in exchange?
FORBES-HOYT: Well, my husband clams, and sometimes we bring clams, sometimes I do a little transport help, sometimes … we’re friends. (laughs).
[MUSIC: Tom Verlaine “Meteor Beach” from Around (Thrill Records 2006)]
KURN: And Felicity Forbes-Hoyt heads out to pick some greens in Eva’s garden.
GELLERMAN: And those clams her husband barters: they may have come from the very same bay the Wampanoag gathered theirs for that first thankful feast. For Living on Earth - I’m Bruce Gellerman.
KURN: And I’m Jessica Ilyse Kurn.
[MUSIC: Tom Verlaine “Meteor Beach” from Around (Thrill Records 2006)]
CURWOOD: You’ll find recipes for parsnip and wild mushroom pie, sunchoke dumplings with swiss chard and a lot more in Didi Emmons new book about Eva Sommaripa’s garden. It's called, "Wild Flavors." You’ll find a link and photos at our website LOE dot ORG.
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