In this episode, we’ve got an interview with writer Kate Washington about California’s burgeoning coffee farms. She’s here to talk more about her article, Black Gold.
And then we have a conversation with Leslie Jonath, author of the cookbook Feed Your People, and the creator of a collection of new regional books called The Little Local Series.
Recommended Recipe: Corn Salad a la Minute
Black Gold by Kate Washington
The Kitchen Witch by Kate Washington
Kate Washington on Twitter
Joy Manning: I’m Joy Manning and this is Edible Potluck, a podcast that gives food lovers a taste of Edible Communities’ magazines. Today, we’ve got an interview with writer Kate Washington about California’s burgeoning coffee farms, and then we have a conversation with Leslie Jonath, author of the cookbook Feed Your People, and the creator of a collection of new regional books called The Little Local Series.
First, let me tell you about a salad I cannot stop making. One of the best things about late summer is local corn, for me anyway. When it first appears, for weeks I stick to the basic corn on the cob, the classic summer side coated liberally with butter and salt, nothing more. When I’m ready for something different, though, I transition to corn salad, and have we got a recipe for you at ediblecommunities.com for a raw corn salad with jalapenos and cilantro. It’s sweet, spicy, crunchy, and refreshing all at the same time and it’s really easy to make, too. First, you put together a quick pickled red onion, and the pickling liquid becomes the dressing for the salad. After you’ve cut the kernels from the corn cobs, the hard work is done and the salad comes together in minutes. You basically just toss it all together and dig right in. You’ll find a link to the recipe in the show notes for today’s episode at ediblecommunities.com/podcast.
Not long ago, I interviewed a coffee scientist for this very podcast and I told you that only one state in the U.S. has local coffee, Hawaii. Well, it turns out I was wrong about that. Today, farmers in California are cultivating coffee, and according to Edible contributor Kate Washington, California coffee is poised for major growth in the years ahead. I read all about it in Kate’s article, Black Gold, and she’s here to tell me more. Hi, Kate. Thank you for joining me today.
Kate Washington: Thank you for having me.
Joy Manning: Tell me, how did this story come to your attention? I had no idea that California had local coffee.
Kate Washington: Well, there’s been a smattering of articles about it in recent years that I’d seen and kind of been looking at. I live in California and I’m interested in California agriculture, so they kind of stuck in my mind, and then I read about Blue Bottle, which is a roaster in San Francisco buying up all of Frinj’s crop for I believe 2017 and was kind of fascinated to hear about that. They’re a very small production, but it was on my radar also because about five years ago, I was working on a story about the history of coffee in Sacramento where I live and learned, to my great surprise, that there had been attempts to grow coffee in California in the 19th century.
Joy Manning: Not successful attempts?
Kate Washington: They were not at all successful, no.
Joy Manning: You mentioned that Blue Bottle bought all of Frinj’s crop. Who is Frinj What do they do?
Kate Washington: Frinj is the network of growers based in the Santa Barbara area and they also have growers in San Diego and coastal Southern California that is really pushing forward with the idea of California growing coffee and the reality of it as well. They grew out of a farm called Good Land Organics run by a man named Jay Ruskey that was looking to diversify its crops in the early 2000s. Jay was already growing Cherimoyas and some other tropical fruit crops, and a farm advisor named Mark Gaskell, who also introduced blueberries to California, was instrumental in that, had experience working with coffee farmers in Central America and suggested to Jay that he try coffee. He made a lot of attempts with that.
Kate Washington: Frinj came together in the last few years as Jay had become more successful with Good Land Organics to give tutorials and the know-how to grow coffee in California to other farmers who found themselves in that situation of wanting to diversify their crops, looking for a specialty crop that they could grow, and not knowing how to start with coffee, but Jay had been having pretty good success with it, and so they provide equipment, training, know-how, and then they’re not really a cooperative. They’re kind of like a network of farms that are producing coffee and are a profit-sharing network.
Joy Manning: You wrote that Good Land Organics was the perfect place to try coffee again in California because it has this ideal microclimate for coffee cultivation. Can you describe that microclimate?
Kate Washington: Yeah, so Good Land is coastal. One thing that had stopped people from trying coffee in California, it had always been assumed that it was only a tropical crop, and Frinj is so named for being on the fringes above the latitudes of the tropics. Coffee in the tropics, the best specialty coffee is grown at high altitude and it had also been assumed that it was the altitude that was the reason for the success of the crop.
Kate Washington: It turns out it’s the cooling effect of the altitude that really is what made specialty coffee growth successful. It allows for longer ripening, which develops deeper flavor, more sweetness, and the microclimate at Good Land Organics is right on the coast, so it has a cooling effect. California inland has very hot summers and can also have frost, but the moving air by the coast and of the cool Pacific Ocean constantly keeps things cool, keeps freezing from happening and damaging the coffee plants and mimics the temperate effect of high altitude from tropical locations.
Joy Manning: You mentioned that there has been attempts in the past of coffee cultivation but it didn’t work out. Can you tell us a little bit more about that history and maybe why past attempts failed?
Kate Washington: Sure. Well, I think the main reason they didn’t succeed is that they really had no understanding of the needs of the coffee plant. It was based a lot on observing in the Sierra foothills in the post-Gold Rush era, so around the 1870s a plant called California Buckthorn, which closely resembled coffee but is not botanically related to it at all, it just happened to look like it. A bunch of ex-miners who were kind of clicking around, looking for something else lucrative to do decided that it would be a good time to try coffee in California. They did plant it at altitude, but inland in the foothills of the Sierras, which are subject to frost which coffee is very susceptible to and can’t really take hard frosts. They tried growing coffee as far north as like north of Sacramento and pretty far south as well, and they were all pretty much flops.
Kate Washington: Interestingly, there was a worldwide spike in coffee prices in the 1870s that kind of led to that and there was already a pretty established coffee industry in California. One of the things that led to my interest in this is when I was researching history of coffee in California and in Sacramento particularly, is that a lot of failed gold miners actually decided they could make more money selling coffee and other groceries to miners than by actually mining for gold themselves.
Kate Washington: The Folger Brothers, for instance, were people who started a big coffee brand in California, and J.B. Hills Brothers and some others are San Francisco-based brands that were coffee roasters and coffee wholesalers back in the Gold Rush days. I think there was a thought like, “Well, if we had a coffee industry here, we wouldn’t have to bring it so far to then provide it”, and obviously, some of those brands have survived, but the coffee plantings of the 1870s did not. There are some really interesting articles that are online in an old journal called The Pacific World Press that I looked up and all the scans of them are online, and so you can look at the kind of boosterish attempts to grow coffee that didn’t pan out at that time.
Joy Manning: I wanted to talk more about the money angle of all of this because you mentioned some prices for today’s California coffee that were pretty shocking to me. Can you tell us what this kind of coffee fetches in terms of price?
Kate Washington: Right, so they have very small batches at this point. The type that I tried, which is a variety called Caturra Rojo, is selling for $75 for five ounces on Frinj’s website. They obviously wholesale and things are a little bit different, but there are some other even higher prices, but that’s $15 an ounce and it’s obviously early days for California coffee. They are really aiming at the premium and super premium coffee market.
Kate Washington: They’re not trying to compete on price but really on quality, and I think the growers in California have taken as their model something like Kona Coffee in Hawaii, where land is also expensive. Some of the factors going into the prices in California is that land, labor, and water are all expensive, and Frinj is looking to be sustainable on all of those elements to space out its labor costs so that they can have labor hired year-round and pay fairly and other elements. It is very costly so at this point.
Joy Manning: You sprang for five ounces of the beans?
Kate Washington: I actually got them to send me a sample. They are sold out at this point. In fact, I had to wait to get a sample until they did a new roasting because they’re just starting, or at the time I was finishing the story, they were just starting a new harvest. They sent me quite a small sample. I was able to make a couple of cups of pour-over.
Joy Manning: Wow. How did you feel grinding those valuable beans?
Kate Washington: I was a little nervous, so I wanted to make sure I would make a good cup with it.
Joy Manning: Do you typically make pour-over at home?
Kate Washington: Not always, no. I was visiting my brother and he’s a big coffee drinker, so I shared a little bit with him.
Joy Manning: What did you and he think of it when you tasted it?
Kate Washington: I really liked it. It was fruity and rounded. It really balanced, and sometimes I find the lighter roasts can turn a little one-note and sour as they cool for me, and that didn’t really happen here. It was a lighter roast and more of that third-wave coffee flavor, but it didn’t get that edge that I sometimes can find off-putting.
Joy Manning: We talked a little bit about the failed attempts in the past and the ideal microclimate that exists in some places today, and I’m wondering, does climate change play a role in this?
Kate Washington: It does. It’s an interesting one. It’s something that was a little counterintuitive to me as I was researching because what I expected was to hear, “Well, California has gotten warmer, the edges of the tropics have gotten warmer and that has enabled people to grow coffee here.” That was not what I was hearing. What I was hearing instead was that in the traditional specialty coffee growing areas of the tropics at altitude where those specialty crops are grown, they have become hotter and it’s become more challenging and the greater volatility of the climate has made those areas a little more marginal for coffee growing.
Kate Washington: Meanwhile, the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean have not really changed. California may have become a little bit warmer, but it really was more that Frinj has seen that there’s a need for more coffee growing areas and it kind of pushes people to try that as other coffee growing areas become more challenging.
Joy Manning: That’s so fascinating to me. I, of course, drink coffee… I shouldn’t say of course, not everyone drinks coffee every day, but I do, and it’s such a complex area and to think that we might have it… Do you think that we’ll see a time in the next five years when we can get cups of California coffee all over the U.S.? Or do you think it’s longer than five years out?
Kate Washington: I think it’s going to continue to be a specialty product for quite a while. The numbers on what they’re expecting to produce and how quickly it’s going to grow… it is growing exponentially, but the number of pounds they are able to produce per year and have for sale is still small. They actually are still saving… they keep a lot for seed and for growth, but the amounts that are coming online are still just like a drop in the bucket, even compared to the production of say Kona Coffee, which still is specialty product.
Joy Manning: It might be a while before I taste it.
Kate Washington: It might be a while, but they are starting to offer it for sale on their website, so there is a direct-to-consumer element. They’ve sold at the Farmers Market in Santa Barbara for a long time, where people could get it locally, but it’s now going to be available nationwide. I think those lots sell out pretty quickly because it’s a novelty and of interest to the specialty coffee fans, but if you watch for it.
Joy Manning: We’ll definitely have a link to that in the show notes if people want to keep watch so that they can jump on it when it becomes available. Now, before I let you go, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your Kitchen Witch column, which you write for ediblecommunities.com and you share your cooking advice with readers. I’m wondering… obviously, we’ll link to that as well, but what’s your top tip for home cooks?
Kate Washington: It’s hard to say one top tip, but I get a lot of questions about, “What can I make for dinner when it seems like there’s nothing in the house?” My feeling is always like if you have a can of beans in the house, you can figure out something to do for dinner. Put an egg on it, season it in an interesting way. Make a bean salad, which is great for this time of year, and in summer, there’s so many options if you have that kind of base and keep a good pantry stocked.
Kate Washington: My other tip is really I think cooking and home cooking in particular and what to make for dinner and what to get on the table for the family mean gets a lot of pressure placed on it, and I like to really remember, “It’s just dinner. Dinner will come around again tomorrow.” If this one isn’t the best dinner you’ve ever made, that’s okay and move on and keep trying and don’t be afraid to experiment when you’re cooking and maybe throw in a little something or freewheel a little. I think people get really intimidated by cooking and there’s no need. It’s just food. It’s supposed to taste good and be fun and you’ll get another chance.
Joy Manning: Cooking should be fun. I think that is terrific advice. Well, thank you very much, Kate. It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you today.
Kate Washington: Thank you.
Joy Manning: That was Kate Washington, freelance writer and Edible Communities contributor. We’ll link to her article Black Gold in the show notes for today’s episode, and of course, her column Kitchen Witch as well. Follow her on Twitter, @washingtonkate.
Joy Manning: Leslie Jonath is a longtime book producer and the author of Feed Your People: Big-Hearted, Big-Batch Cooking and Recipes to Gather Around. She’s here with us today to talk about making dinner for everyone you know and her newest project, a collection of regional books called The Little Local Series. I think this will be especially interesting to Edible readers and fans. Leslie, thank you so much for being with me today.
Leslie Jonath: Thank you so much for having me.
Joy Manning: Let’s start with Feed Your People. Why did you want to get a book out there with recipes that serve 10, 20, and more?
Leslie Jonath: I’ve been producing cookbooks for quite a while. I was the Senior Editor at Chronicle Books before leaving to start my own book producing company, and one of the things I noticed was that there were very few books out there that taught you how to cook for big groups of people. I actually have my own ritual. I every year have a vodka-and-latke party, and it began many years ago with just a few people, and then as it grew I started asking my Mom to prepare the latkes.
Leslie Jonath: I noticed that she had a very specific way of cooking 100, 200, 300 latkes, which involved a lot of prep ahead of time, and then when she was at the party, we had a party that had about 80 people, and then of course, my Dad led everybody in vodka shots. I noticed that there was a very important way that you prep for a big party and there was no book out that was actually about doing this.
Joy Manning: How did your Mom learn that? Was she a seasoned pro at cooking for big crowds?
Leslie Jonath: She is a great cook, but really it was just by necessity about latkes. It started with latkes because when you’re having a vodka-and-latke party, you don’t want to be at the stove cooking and frying. You want to make everything ahead of time. She would start ahead of time and she would make batches of latkes, freeze them, and then at the party, she would just bake them. This party, it was so fun because we could invite anybody we knew and so it became this giant ritual for my family, but it started because she had the smarts and the interest in cooking for a big group of people. That’s why I decided to look around and see how people cooked for others in this way.
Joy Manning: I was wondering. I have tons of cookbooks and, as you mentioned, they mostly serve four to six is the standard size, and I’m wondering what Feed Your People offers you that you wouldn’t get just by quadrupling your existing favorites?
Leslie Jonath: The most important thing about cooking for a big group of people is strategy. It’s not just about quadrupling the ingredients. Sometimes things don’t scale. You might have a spice that doesn’t scale, but more importantly, it’s about how you actually cook. What is your equipment? How do you actually make… how do you prep your own kitchen? In the book, I often talk about how cooking for a big group of people is a lot of work, and so my biggest learning is that you don’t do it by yourself. That if you’re having a big party, the best part of having a big party is getting your party people involved, and it sounds rather simple, but it’s a really important part of making a big party for a big group of people.
Joy Manning: Masterpiece step one, recruit friends.
Leslie Jonath: Yes, and if your mother is available or any family member, children, they are the best people to involve.
Joy Manning: You didn’t write the book on your own. You had a partner in 18 Reasons. Can you tell me a little bit about what 18 Reasons is and why you worked with them on this?
Leslie Jonath: 18 Reasons is a community cooking school. They have community dinners that are only $10 and the entire community is welcome to join. They’re a big-spirited, big-hearted people. They have a Cooking Matters program which teaches low-income people how to cook, and they are just a wonderful school. They have classes for all kinds of cuisines and I thought that when doing a book like this, which is about cooking for a community, I wanted a partner that did that. I wanted the book to benefit a community partner, and they were a perfect, perfect group to work with.
Joy Manning: They’re based where you live in San Francisco, right?
Leslie Jonath: Yes, they’re based in San Francisco, and their Founder is also the Founder the Bi-Rite, so Sam Mogannam.
Joy Manning: Right, well, I think a lot of food lovers certainly know the name Bi-Rite, which is such a famous grocery store, one I would like to visit one day myself. This book didn’t follow a traditional publishing process if I’m understanding it correctly. It was funded on Kickstarter, and I was very curious, with all of your experience and publishing world connections why you would choose to go that route.
Leslie Jonath: I actually did create a proposal and we did shop it to various publishers, and many publishers were really, really interested in it, but a couple of the publishers said they didn’t actually think that people would buy it. They thought that cooking for 20 wasn’t popular enough. They didn’t think there was actually a market for it, and I thought, “We already know how to cook for four to six people, but because there isn’t a book out to feed 20 people, why wouldn’t you do this?” I think publishers really are targeting more of the home cook or the family cook, but they just didn’t think that there was a big enough audience.
Leslie Jonath: My goal in doing publishing is to do projects that haven’t been done before, and it’s not to say that publishers don’t do that, but sometimes there’s reluctance if they don’t think that there’s wide enough audience. However, working with Kickstarter turned out to be a gift because rally a community around a Kickstarter, it essentially made it into a community-based cookbook. I had 400 people who were following the project, I was accountable to 400 people. When I would get anxious and felt I couldn’t finish, I had 400 people waiting for the book. It was actually a wonderful process.
Joy Manning: That’s really inspiring. I think the cookbook business can be really discouraging, so I personally think it’s super inspiring to hear that that came together in that way and it was a response to community support. How did you go about finding the recipes that you featured?
Leslie Jonath: Yes, I was a cookbook editor at Chronicle Books for many years, as I said earlier, and I had met so many wonderful cooks and chefs in my career that I reached out to them. I thought, “If I’m going to learn how to make mac and cheese to feed 20, I want the best possible recipe I can find”, and Ashley Christensen’s from Poole’s Diner has renowned mac and cheese, or actually it’s called Macaroni au Gratin. You make this big batch of macaroni and then you broil it and you get this crispy crust, and so we’ve had that project in the book. That recipe is the centerfold for the book. It’s so beautiful and so luscious.
Leslie Jonath: My process was to find recipes that fed a crowd by the best possible people, and so I reached out to a community of not just chefs but home cooks, and in one case we have… The Dolphin Swimming Club has a Vegenaise crab recipe for a crab boil, so we just reached out to our community. Again, in the spirit of community cookbook, pulled the best recipes we could find.
Joy Manning: Let’s pivot and talk a little bit about The Little Locals. Can you tell me what inspired this project and just a little bit about what it is?
Leslie Jonath: I decided to do Little Local Cookbooks because there is so much audience and so much diversity in local cooking. As you know with the Edible Communities, every region has its specialties and that really interested me. I knew, again, a lot of really wonderful people, so tapping authors for each book has been a joy.
Joy Manning: What are the regions that you’ll be spotlighting with this series?
Leslie Jonath: Maine, New Orleans, Texas, and Portland are the first books… Portland, Oregon, are the first books in the series. Next year, we’re going to have Vermont and the Southwest, and then we’re going to roll out hopefully more titles across the country.
Joy Manning: That sounds great. I can’t wait until we have one that covers Southeastern Pennsylvania where I live.
Leslie Jonath: I’d love that.
Joy Manning: You know I’m a huge fan of local food. I like when I visit a place to have a resource like that, although, you don’t always have a kitchen when you’re traveling, but I find cooking recipes from other parts of the country, even in my home kitchen, gives me a taste of a place without necessarily having to go there. That’s something that I love about this type of books.
Leslie Jonath: I think that when you travel, the food is such a huge part of it. When we were just in New Mexico, there was such excitement around trying different dishes, and that’s always the experience of a place, especially for people who go and stay not just in hotels but do like to cook and do like to frequent markets.
Joy Manning: When will the first ones be available?
Leslie Jonath: Well, the Maine one is actually out now. It just came out in June, and that’s by Annie Copps, and Annie was an editor at Yankee Magazine and is really a powerhouse when it comes to books and her own understanding of New England food. The Main book is so cute. They’re all illustrated with watercolor illustrations by Courtney Jensen, and the illustrations themselves are of the place, they’re not just of food, so the idea behind the books is that you would have a little memento, you would have a little keepsake of the food and of your experience there. The one of Maine has all kinds of wonderful recipes in it. Of course, it has a lobster boil and it has lobster roll. It has moxie-braised pulled pork sandwiches. It has whoopie pies, which I think is a really great named dish.
Leslie Jonath: Each book features the local ingredients of the region, which is great, and if I could talk a little bit about Texas …
Joy Manning: Please do, and when will Texas be available?
Leslie Jonath: Texas and New Orleans and Portland will all be out in August. The Texas book is by Hilah Johnson, who is an eighth-generation Texan, and in her book she has, again, the Texas chili and brisket and baby back ribs and peach cobbler. She is a really great writer. Each book not only has dishes, but it also has the text that is very much about the dish, so it gives you the history of the dish and also just the feeling of the place.
Joy Manning: Well, that sounds like something that our readers at Edible will just love.
Leslie Jonath: Yeah, I felt like every time I was working on a book, too, that I would get to know the place and I’d get to know the person who was writing it. I also think something like the New Orleans book would be great if you’re at Jazz Fest or you’re going there for Mardi Gras. You can come home and you can make the crawfish or the Creole Gumbo. There’s a lot of things that you can bring home. It doesn’t have to always be about going there. It can also be about enjoying literally the taste of the place wherever you are.
Joy Manning: That’s so true. Well, thank you so much for coming on today to talk to me, Leslie. I really enjoyed talking to you.
Leslie Jonath: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It’s so fun to be here.
Joy Manning: That was Leslie Jonath, author of Feed Your People and producer of the forthcoming Little Local Series. Follow her on Instagram, @lesliej and learn more at connecteddotsmedia.com.
Joy Manning: Thank you for joining us today on Edible Potluck. Our podcast Producer is David Wolf. If you liked this episode, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Please take a moment to leave us a rating or a review. You know it helps other listeners find the podcast. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of your own local Edible Magazine. If you don’t know where to get one, find out at ediblecommunities.com. You can find links to everything we talked about today in the show notes for this episode at ediblecommunities.com/podcast. Until next time, remember, eat local.