As we dig into stone-fruit season, we have our 9th edition, Plums in constant rotation. From roast chicken with plum and rye stuffing to plum galettes, we can’t these beautifully purple fruits out of our minds (and our kitchens). And we have Martha Holmberg to thank for our obsession. So we decided to ask her about a few more of her obsessions, from her favorite post-work drink to her most indispensable cooking tool.
SS: What's your first food memory?
MH: Going to lady lunches with my mother and her friends and being allowed to drink the cream that came with their coffees. The cream was served in a tiny glass jug that had a paper cap on it. I remember grasping the little tab on the cap, prizing it off, and sipping on the rich, rich cream while the ladies smoked and drank black coffee.
SS: Post-work beverage?
MH: Who says I wait until after work? Or maybe I should rephrase that to say much of my work starts when I begin to cook dinner in the evening, so drinking and working aren’t mutually exclusive. As to the beverage, I’m pretty boring – at home, it’s most always a glass of pink wine. Out, it’s a Tanqueray 10 martini.
SS: Favorite holiday?
MH: No surprise here – Thanksgiving, because it’s really all about the food and the table. I have a million vintage dishes and pieces of silverware and linens so it’s a treat to set a big table for a lot of people and a lot of courses of food. And I really, really love making gravy.
SS: Favorite fictional hero/heroine?
MH: Hmm, this is hard. Lord Peter Wimsey? A lot of my fiction reading involves murders and people who solve them, and I’ve enjoyed spending time with him in that pursuit.
SS: Make the guest list of your dream dinner party (can be living and/or dead).
MH: Oh, I hate this question – I feel like it’s a test of my cultural depth and erudition…of which I have very little. I'm always amazed by people’s responses – jeez, did they go to the library to come up with that list? I really don’t want to have dinner with Apicius or Thomas Cromwell! My dream guests are my friends, who all love to eat and drink and who know how to be jolly and gracious and not spill red wine (not frequently, anyway) on my antique linen tablecloth. It would be nice to situate this party somewhere fabulous, though – in the middle of Laurelhurst Park in Portland, Oregon, or on the terrace at the Château du Feÿ in Burgundy, where La Varenne was situated for a time. Jaw-dropping view that you know centuries of dinner guests before you also enjoyed.
SS: Kitchen tool you can't live with out?
RH: Microplane grater. I could live without it, but I would be living without lemon zest and grated parmesan. So what’s the point of living?
SS: Cookbook you can't live without?
MH: I’m one of those cooks who has many cookbooks – no exaggeration to say 1,000 – but rarely cooks from them. I just like their company! And I feel secure that they are there if I need them. But over the years, I have often referred to a little ratty handbook that I received as a student at La Varenne in Paris. Mustard-colored, saddle stitched, 50 pages or so, and it contains all the basic sauce, dough, and other elemental component recipes. In US and metric measures, which is super useful.
SS: What music do you listen to in the kitchen?
MH: I’m a news and current events program junkie, so I love to tune in to shows like Science Friday or Fresh Air. But when I want music, it might be Kendrick Lamar on Pandora. Or The Byrds.