Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Vegetarian Epicure

Here I am with Anna Thomas, sharing stories about the 1972 first edition of her book The Vegetarian Epicure. I brought my copy to Book Passage the Saturday she visited to sign copies of her new book Vegan, Vegetarian Omnivore.

I bought her first book shortly after arriving in Berkeley. Unfortunately, I have no memory of where or why I bought it. I was not a vegetarian but the recipes and whimsical pen and ink drawings appealed to me on some level. The cover is now faded from years of  sunlight, but the pages aren't worn and food-stained enough to suit Anna. It's true, I have only made three or four recipes from the book and most are from her delectable dessert section; in fact, I often noticed that vegetarian cookbooks of that era were heavy on desserts, perhaps to compensate for the lack of meat and poultry. Because she was born in Germany of Polish parents,  her sweets are wonderful old-world specialties, and because she loves Christmas, there is a lovely holiday section. Somehow, perhaps because my mother was Swedish, I gravitated toward that section.

When I proudly showed her my 1972 first edition, we chatted about how she started to write the book. She was a poor student at UCLA in the early '70s and loved to entertain. Her friends were so taken with her creative vegetarian meals that they encouraged her to write a book. But she was busy in film school and had little time for another project. Then, in 1971, fate intervened and the US invaded Cambodia. The student protests were so violent and disruptive that the regents closed the university and disbanded classes. I too remember those explosive times in Madison and Berkeley.

Here is a short item from Wikipedia about that era at UCLA:

"In 1971student unrest at UCLA was further exacerbated when President Richard Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia and the National Guard fired upon student protesters at Kent State. Hundreds of student protesters marched through the UCLA campus and vandalized several buildings, including an ROTC building, and part of Murphy Hall. Chancellor Young declared a State of Emergency and summoned the LAPD on campus; 74 arrests were made and 12 people reported injuries. This demonstration and many others at UC campuses throughout the state caused then-Governor Ronald Reagan to shut down the state's colleges and universities for the first time in California's history."

With no classes to attend, Anna wrote her book, found an agent through a friend of a friend, and got the book published by a division of Random House without a hitch. The publisher paired her up with Julie Maas, who did the charming drawings to illustrate Anna's recipes, and a classic was born.  Apparently publishers were scouting for vegetarian cookbooks at the time and The Vegetarian Epicure came along at just the right moment. The book is still in print.

While she was signing copies of her new book for customers and friends, and while we snacked on the delicious dip she brought and served on french bread with goat cheese, she inscribed my "vintage" copy of The Vegetarian Epicure for me.

                                                        MOJO VERDE

Here is the spicy, green, herbaceous dip Anna made from her new book Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore. "It's a knockout Spanish appetizer divine with crisp roasted potatoes" or on crackers with goat cheese.
She encourages people to continue to entertain despite all the difficulties with guest's dietary restrictions. She feels that eating together with friends and family makes life worth while.
6 cloves garlic (or fewer), minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup parsley
1/2 cup mint
1/2 green serrano chili, minced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
                                Pulse in food processor, then add
3 small slices of a baguette
5 T. olive oil
3 T wine vinegar
                                Pulse all ingredients together until pureed