Thursday, April 24, 2014
Leslie Land, a respected figure in the food world, died at the age of 66 on Saturday in Poughkeepsie, New York.
I was introduced to Leslie in April, 2012 and immediately found her an incredibly intelligent and kind woman whose advocacy for life experiences was nothing short of admirable. It wasn’t long into our email correspondence, when we strayed off subject into bees, chicken tractors, climate change, Maine summers, and finding the time to have lunch together. That spring a friend (who had no idea I even knew Leslie) gifted me a copy of The 3,000 Mile Garden: An Exchange of Letters Between Two Eccentric Gourmet Gardeners by Land and Roger Phillips. It is a wonderful read for gardeners of course, but also for anyone who simply enjoys good writing.
“There's something about these obscure vignettes of former lives that's very powerful. Our woods are full of old cellar holes, tumbled-down chimneys, ancient scraggly lilacs absurdly tall still stretching toward the light.” Leslie Land, The 3,000 Mile Garden.
I loved the book as much for the stories shared between these two great gardeners, as the fact that I still enjoy hand-written letters (sent and received) more than I ever will any Facebook update. (Note, the book made my personal winter reading list that year.)
We finally met a year ago for drinks at one of our favorite restaurants on the coast of Maine. Our last email exchange was this past winter when I traveled to the Hudson River Valley and was looking for restaurant recommendations, while Leslie was struggling with multiple deadlines and trying to carve out time for her family.
Leslie Land wrote the kind of articles an aspiring writer wishes he/she could. She lived more in her life than most will in a year. Thankfully, we can still enjoy her wit and intellect by reading articles on her blog on everything from choosing, growing, and storing basil to finding the right toaster oven. Preserve her memory by baking Sunshine Cookies and by all means this winter try her recipe for Autumn Soup: Winter Squash, Chestnut and (Wild) Mushroom. Last, but certainly not least, experience one of Maine’s farmers’ markets with their abundance of delicious fresh foods. Celebrate Maine agriculture and you honor a great woman who deserved many more years in her gardens.
The following obituary is written by Leslie’s friend, Nancy Harmon Jenkins.
Leslie Land, 66, long-time resident of Cushing, prolific writer, editor, cook, gardener, former gardening columnist for the New York Times, and a former editor of Yankee magazine, died from complications from breast cancer August 10 in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she lived with her husband Bill Bakaitis.
Long before locavore was a word to consider, Leslie was known in Maine and throughout much of the country for a deep respect and enthusiasm for locally grown, locally produced food—so long as it lived up to her high standards of excellence. An artist in the kitchen, she was an active member of the Maine arts community, and a dedicated supporter of Maine agriculture. Her own gardens and kitchens, in Cushing and outside Poughkeepsie, were a source of inspiration for much of her writing which, in recent years, focused on a website, leslieland.com. She published four books, including The 3,000 Mile Garden, which became a BBC/PBS series.
Leslie began cooking at Chez Panisse, the famous California restaurant where she was one of the very first chefs—and memorable for a revolt she instigated among female kitchen staff when, on an exceptionally hot day, she took off her clothes and continued to cook clad only in her apron. Remembering her, Alice Waters said, “She was fearless, an uninhibited presence in every conceivable way.”
In addition to her husband, she leaves a step-daughter Celia, granddaughter Ursula, a sister, brother, niece, two nephews, and countless friends whom she inspired to love gardening, good food, and life.
She began writing a weekly column, Good Food, for the Camden Herald and Maine Times, back in the 1970s, columns which formed part of the basis for her book, Reading Between the Recipes, in which she memorably described stone-boiling two giant fish in a bathtub for a wedding reception she had been asked to cater.
Image of Basil by Leslie Land.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.