NEW BOOK – HEIRLOOM HARVEST BY AMY GOLDMAN

Sometime, even I discover books and authors in the most traditional of ways —from a friend.

Which raises the question – how many quality books never get discovered simply because their thumbnail image never showed on on my Amazon Prime page? I made such a discover last week – via a friend who suggested to Amy’s editor that I might enjoy her book (i.e. the old fashioned way of Social Media). A few weeks later, I received a package in the mail with Amy Goldmans brand new book (being released this week) HEIRLOOM HARVEST – Modern Daguerreotypes of Historic Garden Treasures (Bloomsbury) with spectacular Daguerreotypes by noted photographer Jerry Spagnoli. How could I resist a book like this? It delivers on so many levels. Subject, images, book design, experience and expertise.

I came to know Amy Goldman quite indirectly – through my dear friend Abbie Zabar, the artist, author and plantswoman who frequently fills my email box with delightful “must reads” and “Matt must get’s”. Abbie, whom I know instantly has the ability to connect people with her “i know that these people should know each other” mind, should connect, did she just that via email – I connected with Amy over, of all things, this blog (one of Abbie’s” – “you just HAVE to read his blog, its just one of my very favorites”. Oh, Abbie. You’re a dear. Only later did I discover (in this book, since Amy must be one of the humblest people around – that, according to Wikipedia “Amy Goldman Fowler is a gardener, author, artist, philanthropist, and advocate for seed saving, and heirloom fruits and vegetables. She is one of the foremost heirloom plant conservationists in the United States.”.
She was also nominated for a James Beard Award.
She’s kind-of qualified to write a book on heirloom vegetables.

Which leads me to to embrasingly honest reason for why I never heard of Amy Goldman…You know those books that appear on your Amazon Prime account as “suggested reading”? The “If you loved THE THIRD PLATE, then we suggest Amy Goldman’s Heirloom Squashes”. I don’t always react well to that. “that Amazon algorithm doesn’t know what I want!” Maybe I think that since I’ve grown heirlooms for most of my life, that I dismiss new books that look slick as something which probably was not really written for an audience with my experience. I’m not being snooty, just realistic. Believe me, publishers usually don’t consider me the ‘target audience’ when it comes to plants.

Let me say this — I encourage”garden writers’ but more often than not, ‘graden writers’ have a range of experience with plants, some are deeply engaged with their subject, while other love the idea of being a garden writer, but tend to be more like researchers. You know, write to an assignment rather than from personal experience. The writers who are truly authentic writing about their daily lives, they are rare. Many of us miss the ‘Ruth Stouts’, the Thalasa Crusos’, the Vita Sackville Wests’.
Here is what I just discovered – Amy Goldman just may be our very own American Vita.
Where have I been?

It’s the text that I really enjoy in this book. More! I want more!

So if Amy Goldman is my ‘hot find’ for the year, then I clearly have a lot of catching up to do. She’s the author of an impressive library of authentic horticultural works including The Heirloom Tomato from Garden to Table, (2008), Melons for the Passionate Grower, (2002), and the Complete Squash (Artisan, 2004) – (this one I almost bought! Really!). What’s important to note here is the word ‘authentic’. Amy has really grown these plants, from the gnarliest heirloom curcurbit to the sloppiest rotten melon. What I really connected with what how Amy started by exhibiting her veggies in state fairs and in competitions at horticultural societies (sound familiar?).
OK, it sure, it helps that she is married to the founder of the Seed Savers Exchange, but for me, that makes the story even that much better. Sure, she has help, of course, she is ‘the means’, but what’s important here is that she genuinely has the passion – i.e. the chops. You have to respect that.
The real star of this book are the photographs by Jerry Spagnoli. Dageurrotypes actually, so unique and lovely – (think – Cival War style images) of Amy’s gardens and plant crops harvested through the seasons.

I never explored Amy’s world before because, well, I’ve been thinking about that fact – and I really don’t know the answer except that- like Amy, I grow many, many varieties of vegetables ( far fewer than she does, as you will discover), and for whatever reason, I think that I just assumed that Amy was one of those new, urban gardeners -fresh to gardening, and who probably had the right connections to write a book. I’m no being cynical, but I never ran into her at gardening events, or plant society meetings, and let’s be honest here -many of us just simply ‘know’ each other.

Black and white photos don’t always inspire but these daguerreotypes are beautiful, and really enhance the book.

Amy shares about her personal life on the farm, both with cooking and with her travels and adventures with some plants. Amy Goldman is the ‘real thing’, in our over-connected world where terms like ‘lifestyle maven’ and ”Queen of DIY’ are tossed around as commonly as ‘selfie’ and ‘urban hipster’, it’s so refreshing to discover that indeed there were others (also living in Connecticut) who genuinely were raising poultry, heirloom vegetables, keeping a real greenhouse, planting orchards, and raising a family – but perhaps, not marketing it or writing about it.

This photo of Joe watering the chrysanthemums in the greenhouse this weekend. -Our lives are surrounded by history, an old home, an older farm stone walls and plows – even the plant varieties and livestock each have a story. Amy surely senses it all, and combines history, heritage with contemporary life in a respectful and uncommercial way that makes everything feel more connected( in a world, which ironically really isn’t all that ‘connected’ with itself at all).

Sure, it helped greatly that one has the means to practice these arts and crafts today – I have no problem with that (Hell, I’d do the same thing!), but here is a case where someone honestly had both the means and the passion to pursue and learn more about life – but in a more silent and engaged way. Maybe now, it’s all coming together for Amy – as children grow and as time and focus’ shift. I sense that the things in life which many of us simply feel connected with, know no boundaries nor stone walls – that the magic of a blooming snowdrop or an heirloom quince tart in the autumn hot out of the oven with the snow falling can delight anyone.

This weekend we picked the last of our heirloom onions and shallots. In the evening when I flipped through Amy’s book, I could imagine how they planned their shots, since this is exactly what veggies really look like – when one raises interesting and heirloom types. Not, typical supermarket commercial selections.

Amy’s backstory was so fascinating to me, as I read the first few chapter. I started to take notes, since she did many of the same things I used to do. From exhibiting plants in competitions, to canning and preserving. It helped that my parents did those things as well, but I love it when I read about someone completely becoming obsessed with such things. I also never knew about her connection to the Seed Savers Exchange, which now, explains so much. Where have you been Amy Goldman? You must write more books.

A contemporary view from The Heirloom Harvest by Amy Goldman, of her greenhouse and garden. Perhaps you can see why I feel so connected to this lifestyle, albeit on a completely different scale!

Amy is authentic, real, not in a ‘oh, I want to be like Martha-real’, but in a way where you just know she fell into this, and madly-obsessively in love with plants, farming, nature and the life that surrounds all of that. IT all shows in the writing when one is completely immersed in what they writes about, (maybe because they are not simply ‘writing about some research they did on Google, but actually writing about HOW they grew it or how they discovered it, or how they ‘effed it up.

A winter view of Amy Goldman’s farm.

If I had any complaints (all are minor) it’s that the finish on the cover (a flat, uncoated varnish) lends itself to fingerprints (Maybe I have greasy hands!), and since I wanted to sit and read the book, I felt that it might be too oversized – which does justice to the images, but does make the book less useful when one is trying to balance it under a light, or in bed. I have to admit that my favorite part of this book is the text, but aside from a few chapters in the front, there is little text throughout the rest of volume. As the cover promises, it acts more as a portfolio for the fines photography of Jerry Spagnoli (which is certainly not a complaint), but I could imagine this as two books I suppose. I so would like to read a text-heavy months-by-month gardening or farm experience book by Amy (hint hint), with a few images mixed it.

As a graphic designer, the design of the book is superb. Something I rarely see today ( and believe me, I often provide some rough critiques on book design. That said, I refuse to put this book in my book case, and even brought it to my office so that I could display it on my desk – it’s that beautiful.

Our last fig of the season, just being moved into the greenhouse before our first, hard frost this past weekend. I’m kind of inspired by those images! More of our harvest pics to come now that we had our frost.
This is my own image of an olive tree, that I started a couple of years ago from a cutting that Abbie Zabar convinced me to ‘just take it and root it in a glass of water’. Today, it’s 5 feet tall, and trained as a topiary in the same style as Abbie’s now out-of-print-book, The Potted Herb, by Abbie Zabar (1988,Stewart, Tabori and Chang) (get that book took if you can find it!).

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