What I’m Reading: An Onion in My Pocket by Deborah Madison

A friend sent this book to me, a surprise in the mail.  As I’m not a foodie or even a particularly enthusiastic cook, I wondered at the choice of reading material.  However, I discovered some interesting connections as I read.

Madison spent twenty years at the Zen Center in San Francisco.  I visited the Center in the early 1970s, because the sister of my then boyfriend was living there.  She took us to the bakery where she was working.  My memory is of Carol wearing a kerchief and apron and covered in flour.  I seem to remember having a meal at the Center as well, with the three bowls as Madison describes, eating in silence, and then being coached on how to wipe out my dishes.

Madison mentions the garden at U.C. Santa Cruz.  The renowned Alan Chadwick was resident head gardener there, and his theatrical voice could be heard directing students throughout the garden.  I worked in the garden during the summer of 1969 and had at least one lunch there with Alan Chadwick. 

“A Superb Horticulturalist of the 20th Century Alan Chadwick (1909-1980): English artist, Shakespearean actor, master horticulturalist, vitalist and visionary who revolutionized organic horticulture and inspired thousands of gardeners worldwide.” (chadwickarchive.org)

I have special memories of early mornings in the foggy garden, cutting carnations to be offered at a small stand for any members of the college community. 

Madison’s memoir offers a somewhat disjointed, but interesting tour through the development of vegetarian cooking and her experiences as a chef.

Amazon’s description follows:


From the author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (“The Queen of Greens,” The Washington Post)—a warm, bracingly honest memoir that also gives us an insider’s look at the vegetarian movement.

Madison’s “insightful memoir” (The Wall Street Journal) is “a true delight to read as she uncovers her love for all real foods, peeling off layer by layer like an onion, recounting her own personal, culinary, and gardening experiences” (Lidia Bastianich).

Thanks to her beloved cookbooks and groundbreaking work as the chef at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, Deborah Madison, though not a vegetarian herself, has long been revered as this country’s leading authority on vegetables.

She profoundly changed the way generations of Americans think about cooking with vegetables, helping to transform “vegetarian” from a dirty word into a mainstream way of eating. But before she became a household name, Madison spent almost twenty years as an ordained Buddhist priest, coming of age in the midst of counterculture San Francisco. In this charmingly intimate and refreshingly frank memoir, she tells her story—and with it the story of the vegetarian movement—or the very first time.

From her childhood in Big Ag Northern California to working in the kitchen of the then-new Chez Panisse, and from the birth of food TV to the age of green markets everywhere, An Onion in My Pocket is as much the story of the evolution of American foodways as it is the memoir of the woman at the forefront. It is a deeply personal look at the rise of vegetable-forward cooking, and a manifesto for how to eat well.

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