From Spade to Stove By Gale Waldron Special to The Washington Post Sunday, June 16, 2002
Leesburg Writer Finds Gardening and Cooking Are Ingredients For a Satisfying Life
Olwen Woodier grew up on a working farm in Cheshire, England, and what she remembers best is being in the kitchen with her mother, making bread and jams.
"My mother was a farmer's daughter, and all of my family were farmers, and we just cooked," Woodier said. "The whole village was farmers. There was always cooking going on and gangs of family and friends coming in and out."
She now lives on a working farm of another sort outside Leesburg, where her husband, Richard Busch, makes pottery and she gardens, cooks (for gangs of family and friends coming in and out) and writes about cooking. Her newest cookbook, Corn, will be available this month in local bookstores and specialty food shops with 142 recipes she created to prove her contention that corn "is an extremely versatile vegetable. You can do just about anything with corn because it's so sweet."
Having been born to cooking, Woodier acquired her taste for writing at school, where she excelled at essays, and went on to work in communications for an American company in Geneva. When the company moved to New York, so did she, in 1971, and eventually took a job with Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. "I was an assistant to the president, hoping that something would open up on the editorial side," she said, "and it did." She was asked to start a company newsletter and was warned that she would need photography skills as well. "I was dating Richard then, and he was a young writer working for [Ziff-Davis's] Popular Photography, so he taught me what I needed to know."
Several years later, when the couple's only child [Wendy] was born, Woodier decided to stay home, but she needed something more to do. "I could write and I could cook, so I decided I would write about food." She sent her first article -- about afternoon tea in England -- to Gourmet magazine, and it sold immediately. "This is so easy, or so I thought," she said with a grin, "but after that it took me several months before I got another one published." Soon, however, she was writing for Family Circle, Woman's Day, and other national publications.
With several articles to her credit, Woodier approached Vermont-based Garden Way, which later became Storey Communications and still is her publisher, with ideas for food books, and she and the editors settled on apples. Woodier wrote Apple Cookbook from start to finish, creating her own recipes and adding some of her mother's. "I was eating six apples a day to taste the different flavors, and I was adding apples to curry sauces and soups and basically treating them like vegetables," Woodier said. She read; she ate more apples; and she peeled, sliced and sautéed them (with "a pinch of love") into 140 recipes for breakfasts, soups, entrees, beverages and desserts.
Like Corn cookbook, which was published initially in 1986 and totally revised for the latest edition, Apple Cookbook provides a history of the main attraction, with descriptions of the varieties, notes about nutrition and health, profiles of several growers and apple tips and trivia. It, too, has been updated. First published in 1984, Woodier's apple book won the Tastemaker Award, now the James Beard Foundation Kitchen Aid Book Award. Last year, and many bushels of apples later, she updated it to include the newer varieties of apples and 100 new recipes that are more health conscious.
Much of Woodier's home cooking is also homegrown. "I'm happiest when I'm gardening," she said. "I'm very spiritual, and I feel very connected to the earth." When her family moved from New York to Virginia in the late '80s, so Richard could take a job as editor of National Geographic Traveler, she joined Master Gardeners of FairfaxCounty, receiving an advanced certificate after 10 years.
In 1994, Random House/Crescent Books published her book Vegetables: Food Essentials, and in 1995 with Better Homes & Gardens/Meredith Books she published Gardening Weekends, a book of plans and strategies for the busy gardener, with 52 weekend projects ranging from creating water gardens and making scarecrows to planting and maintaining vegetable and perennial gardens.
Home at Glenfiddich Farm, she plants flowers high in nectar and pollen -- sunflowers, hyssop (agastache), catnip and catmint, goldenrod, butterflyweed (asclepia tuberosa), ironweed, echinacea, abelia -- for the butterflies, bees and birds that pollinate most of our commercial crops and flowering plants. "Honeybees like the shorter, more compact flowers," she said, "while hummingbirds and other creatures with long tongues like to feed on cup-shaped flowers."
Though it is hardly apparent now, she and Richard had serious reservations about buying Glenfiddich when they first saw it three years ago. "We walked all around the property, and I could see clearing out the stream eventually and fixing up the springhouse and the pond," Woodier recalled. "Then I walked into the house, and the light was failing and the place was so dark. There were lofts, and we couldn't see the ceiling." They removed the lofts, took down walls, gutted the kitchen and started over.
Today, their home is full of light, and a wide-open space sweeps from the gourmet kitchen through the dining and living areas. "I love to give parties, and I love to cook," Woodier said. "Cooking and entertaining, they are gifts, and I like the giving part. "It's relaxing, too," she added. "If I'm feeling a little under the weather, or frustrated, cooking always helps."
Outside the house, extensive cottage gardens run along the entire length of the barn. Beyond the fence line, meadows extend as far as the eye can see, and therein sits a pond that has been nursed back to health with her installation of submerged plantings. "We're just now beginning to see it all come together," she said.
Richard turned a four-stall barn and milking parlor located directly below the house into his Glenfiddich Farm Pottery workshop and showroom gallery. He also managed to build a salt-fired kiln in one of the farm's outbuilding whenever he wasn't helping his wife haul mulch, build birdhouses and construct ponds and raised garden beds. When she's not inside cooking or outside tending to the birds and bees, Woodier is at her computer in her office on the barn's upper floor. There she does her research, writes her books and works as a public relations consultant to several organizations, including Raspberry Falls Golf Course in Leesburg, an environmental course known for its natural habitats and different varieties of grasses; and Golf Tourism in Wales for the Wales Tourist Board, Cardiff.
"I can't sit and watch the television," she said. "My whole body starts to scream. I have too many things I want to do, and I want to be active." When she really wants to relax, she writes poetry -- free verse -- often about nature or day-to-day life. Her current project is "a fast-and-easy healthy cookbook." Her plans include teaching cooking again in the spring, another hands-on experience, she explained, in which she and her students cook flavorful meals and sit down to enjoy them at the end of the evening.
The working title of her next book for Storey Publishing, due out in 2004, is about Peaches, Plums and Nectarines -- of which Olwen and Richard and their friends will be eating quite a lot of this summer.
When it comes to corn, cookbook author is all ears by Mat SchafferThe Boston GlobeWednesday, July 17, 2002
There's no more quintessentially American grain than corn. Its versatility in the kitchen is unparalleled. And is there anything better than the fresh, local corn we New Englanders enjoy from July through September?
Award-winning cookbook author Olwen Woodier tells you everything you need to know about corn - how to buy, prepare and store it - and offers 140 recipes in her newly published book Corn (Storey Books, MA, 2002).
"The history (of corn) takes us back thousands of years to the Native Americans,'' said Woodier by telephone from her Virginia home. ``Other grains - like wheat and oats - were brought over by the Colonials . . . Corn has been carbon-dated back five to seven thousand years in both Mexico and the Southwest.''
Corn kept the Pilgrims alive during their first winter in Massachusetts in 1620. "The Pilgrims didn't have any of their own grain,'' Woodier said. "They found some dried corn that had been stashed by Native Americans. And when they became friendly, the Native Americans brought corn to the Pilgrims and showed them how to grind it, pop it and cook it.''
How do you select an ear of corn at the market? Woodier says use your eyes and hands. "The husks should be wrapped around the ears quite tightly,'' she said. "And the husks should be bright green and not dried. The tassels should be a light color and sort of soft and springy, not brown and dried out. The stems should look pretty fresh and moist - that indicates that they've been cut quite recently.''
Don't be shy. Woodier says pull down the husks and inspect the kernels. "It may not be the politest thing on earth but otherwise we can end up taking home some really big, overdeveloped ears or old ears,'' she said. "This way, you can see whether the kernels are too mature or too small. What you're looking for is that really nice, medium-sized kernel - not too big, not too small. You're looking for size and plumpness. It shouldn't look shriveled. If you peel it down just a little way, you can get a very good idea.''
If you're buying corn at a nearby farmer's market, Woodier advises you go early in the day. "If it's local corn, it probably was picked that morning and you need to get it home as soon as you buy it . . . The sugar in the corn turns to starch very quickly (once it's been picked),'' she said.
Be careful not to overcook corn. "Corn is so sweet you can take it off the cob and toss it in salads and it's delicious, but when you're going to have it for dinner, you don't want to taste that absolute rawness,'' Woodier said. "The ideal thing is to drop it in boiling water about 1 to 2 minutes. That's perfect for me. If you boil it too long, the sugar becomes starchy.''
The beauty of corn, says Woodier, is that it's a "year-round food.''
"You can eat it fresh, steamed, roasted,'' she said. "You can eat the kernels tossed into breads, pancakes, puddings, soups, omelets, anything. It can be ground into cornmeal. It can be eaten as polenta. It can be dried and used as a popping corn or rehydrated. It can be frozen or canned.''
But Woodier admits there's something undeniably special about eating fresh corn, especially when it comes from local farms. "Waiting for the first, fresh corn of the season is like waiting for that vine-ripened tomato,'' she said. "It sings of summer.''
BAKED TOMATOES WITH CORN CUSTARD Cooking oil spray 6 firm, medium-large tomatoes 1 T. butter 2 T. finely chopped onions 2 T. finely diced red bell pepper 1 egg 1/4 c. light cream 2 c. cooked corn or canned corn, drained 1/4 t. salt 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper 3-4 T. grated cheddar or parmesan
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking oil. 2. Cut the tops off the tomatoes, scoop out the seeds and pulp and turn them upside down on paper towels to drain. 3. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, add the onion and bell pepper and saute for 2 minutes. 4. In a medium bowl, beat the egg and cream together, then stir in the corn, onion mixture, salt and pepper. 5. Spoon the mixture into the tomatoes and sprinkle the tops with the cheese. 6. Arrange the tomatoes on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the filling has set. Makes six servings. From Corn by Olwen Woodier (Storey Books, 2002)