Thursday, September 17, 2009
hungry for books?
considering that almost all of my posts on sew green have been about books related to food and sustainable agriculture, you can imagine my excitement when i found omnivore books on food, an sf bookstore owned and run by book collector celia sack. celia sells new and antique/collectible books on cooking, baking, food + agriculture politics and food history. the very small store is packed (beautifully and carefully so) with gorgeous, shiny new cookbooks like these, alongside often smaller, more faded, but somehow even more alluring rare and collectible books like the (golden pig) one at the top of this post. out on the shelves are many victorian-era books with fanciful and strange illustrations of things like sugar spinning (done on tip toe on a chair if i recall correctly, in a full-length gown, strands of sugar hanging almost to the floor like so much rapunzel hair—this illustration can be found in celia's favorite oldie, a book from 1894 called fancy ices).
i was lucky enough to sit down with celia and talk with her about her store. below is a bit about what i learned, and it is also what makes this bookstore a true gem.
celia on left
celia knows her books. inside and out. especially the collectible ones. i mentioned a recipe from a book my housemate had bought at omnivore, and celia knew right away which book i was referring to (this one)! she made numerous such connections throughout the interview (talking with me and with customers). the store is organized by subject, but without signage. i didn't ask, but i am pretty sure the lack of signs is on purpose, and it certainly makes things more interesting. as soon as you ask celia where to find something or how the books are organized, she springs to action. she can determine exactly what you might like (even if you would normally be shy and not prone to divulging all your food and agricultural passions to strangers). if she doesn't have the book you're looking for, she'll offer one (or seven) others that might be just as good, and more likely better, than what you had in mind.
the events! intimate author readings and pie contests, for example. i attended a pie contest there last week. i don't think anyone expected 48 pies!! to show up. the place was brimming with pies. just when there was no more room for pies, another pie would arrive—blackberry, ginger peach, strawberry cream, banana cream, blueberry and on and on. luckily, there were also plenty of pie eaters. see more photos from this fun event here. (i made a lemon cream pie with a walnut, homemade graham cracker crust.) the winning pie was the banana cream.
paula helps organize pie tables
the many connections. the store is connected to sf's food history. around the turn of the century, the store used to be a butcher shop, and the freezer door, meat hanging rack and scale remain intact. it's also connected to sf's (and beyond) food past through the books celia collects. many of the collectible books were printed in sf or california. celia worked at the sf book auction house for years and knows all those antiquarian book fair folks (or antiquarian hair fair folks as a friend of hers calls them—apparently there are a lot of large beards and intricate mustaches at the fairs.)
celia and her partner paula have owned the pet store next door for eleven years, and celia herself is an sf native, so omnivore books has some deep roots. celia also supports the business of an older lady farmer by buying the woman's free range eggs and selling ten dozen or so a week of them at the bookstore. and of course the in-store events lead to community connections as well. day-to-day customers include neighborhood folks, pet owners (wandering over from next door), local chefs, and people specifically seeking out the store for books (old and new) on food (the ultimate connector).
sidenote per celia regarding events: "the people who are into baking are the nicest." she told me that like bluegrass musicians, bakers let everyone have a turn. they happily share their skills and recipes (and treats). they have a the more the merrier attitude. (this tidbit is not that surprising, right? it's not often that someone who bakes cookies for people is a meanie.) so, baking events=always good events to attend.
here are some of the fantastic upcoming events at omnivore books.
if you're interested in reading a transcript of the interview, leave a comment with your email address and i'll send it to you. (it's five pages long!)
thanks so much to generous celia for a delightful interview! and to diana who loaned me her tape recorder.