Edible Brooklyn, the magazine beloved for its features on local farmers, makers, purveyors and chefs (and its reliably drool-inducing food porn photography), has just released a cookbook. According to Edible, the book “takes you on a photo-packed, tasty tour of one of America’s most diverse locales and its gastronomic pleasures.”
OK – you’ve got our attention. Heading over to Amazon in search of more details, we found a blurb saying the book contains recipes for “small plates and snacks and sandwiches, vegetables, pickles, and sides,” which sounds pretty Brooklyn-y alright. Naturally, we wondered – just which ‘local artisans, chefs, and ordinary folk’ contributed recipes? What recipes await within? Come to think of it, what’s the story behind this snapshot of Brooklyn food culture, circa 2011!?
To find out, we tracked down the book’s editor, Rachel Wharton, long-term Brooklynite and food reporter extraordinaire who, rather incredibly, pulled the whole thing together over the course of an eight week sprint just about a year ago.
So Rachel, how did you end up covering the Brooklyn food world?
I’ve always been a writer. I’ve lived in pretty much the same one-mile radius of where I live now in Prospect Heights for about eleven years. I’ve been in Brooklyn the whole time that I’ve lived in New York City.
I went to NYU for their Food Studies program in 2003. Two weeks later I got the only food section internship that the Daily News ever had. I stayed there for five or six more years – going from an intern, to working three days a week, to becoming the features food writer, to editing their food section…until eventually I left to work with Edible.
The Daily News food section was a really good place — especially back then — for someone interested in exploring the city and how people eat and what they eat and why. It was really neighborhood focused. We had one page where we’d talk to a regular home cook – always someone from a different culture – so we were really food culture-focused, like Edible is now.
And from there, on to Edible?
My editor at Edible is a woman named Gabrielle Langholtz. She’s amazing. She’s what makes Edible Brooklyn and Manhattan what they are. When I started at the Daily News, she was the public relations person at NYC Greenmarkets.
One of my first assignments at the Daily News was to cover the Greenmarkets’ New Farmer Development Program. They work with immigrants from Latin America to connect them with upstate farmers. A number of them have gone on to start their own farms and are now part of the Greenmarket community themselves.
I met Gabrielle at the Sunset Park Greenmaket while working on that story. I said, “Man, if I could do anything, I’d like to cover a vegetable a week in the Daily News!” And we laughed hysterically because that would never happen.
And then a week later, the Daily News editors were like, “We want to start a cooking seasonally column!” – so I got to do exactly that!
We became really good friends. About seven years ago, Gabrielle started editing Edible Brooklyn. I think I’ve written for every single issue except one. When they needed a deputy editor, I came over to help her. They had already started Edible Manhattan at that point, which is about two years old.
Tell me a little about the book. How long did it take to pull together?
So there are about seventy different Edible communities around the country. Each has their own magazine and focuses on their own local area. We published a national cookbook about a year ago, and Edible got a deal to do an additional five regional cookbooks.
They decided to do Brooklyn first. So that’s how our cookbook came to be.
I started on the project at about this time last year. I had to collect one hundred recipes and ten profiles of Brooklyn cooks, food makers and diners, before Christmas. So the book took a year to come out, but I literally put it all together in about two months.
Uh, really? Was that as amazing a feat to you as it sounds to me?
Yes. My October and November were really…stressful last year. They were like, “It has to be done by December.” I said, “Do you read Edible Brooklyn!? We don’t have any recipes!”
Other Edibles are very recipe-focused, but in Brooklyn we don’t do recipes. I had to start from scratch. I had to collect a hundred recipes in six weeks. And I worried – what if they weren’t good!? Or didn’t work!? I basically went to everyone we’d ever written about, ever, and asked them for recipes.
We didn’t want to focus just on restaurants. I wanted the headnote for each and every recipe to be a story. I wanted lots of stories — so that if you looked through the book, you’d get a clear picture of everything going on here…recipes from people who raise bees in community gardens, a third-generation Italian American from Bay Ridge whose family runs a cheese shop, rooftop gardeners, the guy who has a farm in the back of his truck…We wanted it to be like the magazine, so if you looked through it you’d get a clear picture of Brooklyn’s food culture right now.
So I was more focused on making sure each recipe told a story. It accidentally turned out that we ended up with great recipes too! Most of the people we went to cook seasonally and locally. Most of recipes are really simple. They’re good fits with the way people cook at home, and they’re not very hard to make.
Edible is very focused on sustainable agriculture and people making things by hand, so we have a lot of that sort of thing in the book because that’s what we cover.
So you just emailed everyone you could think of to round up contributors?
I emailed every single person we’d covered. I tried to track down some people by phone, but because we were on such a tight deadline, I pretty much just blasted away with emails. I emailed Tom Mylan at The Meat Hook, and Taylor at The Brooklyn Kitchen, every owner of every cheese shop in Brooklyn, every pickler, cake maker, every vendor at The Brooklyn Flea…all the chefs we’ve covered in our ‘Back of the House’ column…I emailed everyone. If I saw someone on the street, I’d approach them. I think I got a few by text actually. You have to get the chefs by text!
Tell us about some of the recipes.
There are so many! We have a Caribbean dried cod recipe from a beekeeper at the East New York Community Garden. We have a five-cheese lasagna from Patrick Watson, the owner of Stinky Bklyn. We have seven different recipes from the past hundred and fifty years for a cocktail called ‘The Brooklyn’ from David Wondridge – the cocktail historian and writer from Carroll Gardens. We have a cheesecake from Concetta Di Palo of the family that runs Di Palo’s cheese shop in Manhattan – they’ve all lived in Bensonhurst for three or four generations. We have an egg cream recipe from Petey Freeman of Brooklyn Farmacy, Mathew Tilden of SCRATCHbread’s focaccia recipe, masa tortillas from Jacques Gautier of Palo Santo…We have a cocktail from Damon Boulte, the mixologist at Prime Meats…
On the Brooklyn Flea front, we have salted caramel popcorn balls from Liddabit Sweets, pickles from Brooklyn Brine, a cake recipe from The Good Batch, a spicy pickle and cheese sandwich from Anne Saxelby, and we actually have a profile on Eric Demby — the founder of the Flea.
Did you have to test all these in a six week period!?
I didn’t have to test them. Edible had a kind of crowd-sourced group of recipe testers. I’d literally get in a recipe and send it out for testing as I ran around collecting more recipes. If I had to test all those recipes myself I’d still be working on the book!
Any personal favorites?
There’s a recipe from Erin Fairbanks — she runs a farming show for Heritage Radio Networks, which is broadcast from the back of Roberta’s. She has a recipe for pasta with fresh corn and purple cabbage, which I just love. It’s exactly the way I really like to cook.
Oh, and we have a few snacks recipes from the guys at Beer Table! A white bean puree and a quick pickle – they’re also awesome.
And there’s a spicy hummus from Michael Hearst. He has a book coming out, in which he asks chefs from all over the country for recipes – he turns the recipes into songs!
So you’ve been covering food in New York since well before the beginning of the sort of explosion of Brooklyn’s food culture? Any thoughts on how it’s all developed?
It kind of continues to blow my mind. About five years ago, when I was still at the Daily News, I did a story for Edible in which we traced the only places to buy certain specialty foods. There wasn’t much cheese or meat at the Greenmarkets until recently. So the only places to go for all kinds of specialty foods was Sahadis, the Food Co-op, Lassen & Hennings over in Brooklyn Heights, and a couple of other places. This was only five years ago. There were only about five specialty food shops in Brooklyn. And now there are about five times that. The Brooklyn Kitchen, The Meat Hook, Brooklyn Larder, Fleishers…none of those places existed then.
It’s unbelievable how outdated that story is now. It’s almost ridiculous! And it’s not showing any signs of slowing down.
Another thing I’m really impressed with personally is the amount of urban farming and gardening that’s happening here right now. BK Farmyards is growing food in people’s backyards, and has a youth farm at a school. They ran a six-person CSA off someone’s backyard this year, which totally blows my mind. It’s like the coolest project ever. There are the rooftop farms. There’s Gotham Greens, which actually sells salad greens to Union Market and Whole Foods. The whole urban agriculture thing is really cool.
The whole food thing in Brooklyn has generated its fair share of skeptics too. Any thoughts on that?
It’s funny. There was a comment on Amazon about how we’re not representing ‘real Brooklyn.’ As if there’s some old-school ‘real’ Brooklyn, and none of what we cover is ‘real’ Brooklyn. But it’s all Brooklyn. There’s always been such diversity here. Every class, race, ethnicity – they’ve always coexisted and should continue to coexist.
What I’m happy to see is that there’s better, fresher food in places like East New York, Red Hook, or Flatbush, where you couldn’t get it before. Is that ‘real’ Brooklyn? What is ‘real’ Brooklyn?
I roll my eyes sometimes. There’s a mayonnaise shop opening around the corner from my house. That’s kind of ridiculous! It’ll probably be great, but how do you not poke fun at that?
So there is some of that expensive, fancy, niche food out there, but at the same time some of the most progressive food projects in the country are happening here.
Last question – what are some of your favorite food or drink spots?
Whenever I cover a place for the Back of the House column in Edible becomes my immediate favorite for months and months.
Everyone should go to Purple Yam in Ditmas Park. They do a Filipino brunch…you get these noodles with shrimp sauce and ground pork for breakfast! It’s like the best thing I’ve ever eaten for breakfast.
I love going Sunset Park for tacos and tortas and cemitas. I also really love Sunset Park Chinatown. I love Brighton Beach for Russian, Ukrainian, and Uighur food. Or going down Knickerbock or Broadway and check out all the taquerias…
I think I ate breakfast every day at Mile End for four months! I mean, Mile End, and Prime Meats, and Roberta’s, and Franny’s, and Roebling Tea Room…those are just all such awesome places.
Oh, and Saltie! They have that one sandwich with sardines and salad…that’s pretty much the best sandwich ever!
Want to grab a copy of your very own Edible Brooklyn Cookbook? You can find it on Barnes & Nobles and Amazon, but as they Edible on their blog, “We’d be remiss not to tell you to track it down in a local bookshop, or even at a local Greenmarket, where we’ll be selling and signing copies throughout the rest of the month.”