Food, Family, Fond Memories
Review By Kerry Newberry
One of the joys of the holiday season is the sound of glasses clinking, toasting good friends, food and family around the table. It’s a time when cooks dig out dog-eared recipes and the stories that anchor family and friends are told again and again. Wine collects like memories and the kitchen is the place to be.
A charming addition to the hearth this December is the recently released “The Ponzi Vineyards Cookbook.” Published by Arnica Publishing, the book is described by author Nancy Ponzi as a “wandering collection of recipes, cooking tips, memories, tributes and stories from my decades of involvement and fascinations with food.”
Unlike many current cookbooks organized by season, this collection is arranged by courses and commemoration: Antipasti, Pasta, Meatless Salads & Sides, Seafood, Entrées, Holidays & Celebrations, Harvest, Breads & Breakfasts and Sweets.
At first glance, it is the vibrant photography by Michael Shay that entices the epicure to dive in—especially photos of the elegantly poached pears from the Sweets section.
More captivating, though, are the stories Ponzi sprinkles throughout the book with “A Note from Nancy.” The descriptions and perceptions of family members and friends are included because the memories behind recipes—yours and mine—are important. Foods are a direct and tangible link to the people we love, whether they’re with us still or not.
Reading the anecdotal tales is like flipping through a family photo album or sitting in the Ponzi kitchen to hear firsthand the family and winery history. The Blue Cheese Burgers may seem basic, but they’ve graced the grill since the 1970s and still feed the summer jazz festivals on the winery lawn. The decadent Doba alla Piemontese carries the story of Slow Food and a trip to the Italian Alps. Chilean Pebre was inspired by a winter escape to Chile. Honey-Lime Glazed Chicken chronicles winemaker Luisa Ponzi’s adventures in beekeeping; and Nancy, too, divulges a pastime of raising Nubian goats in her Fresh Ricotta Cheese recipe.
In the more traditional flavors, Ponzi pays homage to her parents’ all-American fare with Alice’s Apple Pie and Classic Cornbread, her dad’s favorite.
She recognizes friends, like best-selling author Mireille Guiliano of “French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure” in recipes for Caviar and Lamb Chops with Herb Pastes, as well many others that contributed to the Ponzi table over the years. One such recipe choice, Sticky Buns, shows the book’s eclectic nature.
“I think the section of Harvest—making 150 sticky buns—is a little silly and fun,” Ponzi commented. “But definitely distinct to the needs of a farm and a winery in particular.”
During this past harvest, the 25-person Ponzi crew finished seven weeks of substantial daily meals with recipes cooked straight from the book. The Harvest Party Halibut is just one of many dishes that has been crew-tested and approved. Using fresh-caught fish, this recipe will satisfy any crowd.
The cookbook evolved from the Ponzi Amici Cellar Club but truly began from a gift.
“The Amici Club started about seven years ago,” Ponzi explained. “The thought was offering recipes direct from me—paired with selected wines, of course—as a unique feature consumers might enjoy.”
After about a year, Ponzi started refining the recipes as she received questions and compliments from Amici members, sparked by the culinary concoctions.
“Dick compiled all the Amici Cellar Club recipes in a pretty album for my birthday, with a note on why not do something with all of these,” Ponzi said. The gift coincided with her contributing a few recipes to Bill King’s “The Vintner’s Kitchen,” also published by Arnica.
It was culinary kismet. The staff at Arnica liked her dishes. So Ponzi rediscovered her files full of culinary creations, and the idea for the cookbook was launched.
The introduction outlines the family’s path from California to Oregon wine country and the founding of the winery. As one of the pioneers of the industry, it is the Oregon wine story. She captures the allure with words on the cellar and art of winemaking, recognizing that there is an undeniable romance amid the arduous work.
“From all the wine dinners, tastings and just meeting people through the years, I’ve learned there’s a genuine curiosity about what “wine people” do,” Ponzi said. “In contrast, I find the quickest way to watch the eyes of an audience glaze over is to start talking of brix, picking dates, fermentation temperatures, duration of cold soaks, alcohols and acids.”
“People like the stories,” she continued. “I think it has something to do with wine being more than a product; wine is of a place and of real people, and the consumer wants to relate to that reality.
“Fortunately Ponzi has lots of honest history and stories—struggle, success, failure, family,” Ponzi said. It is this heartfelt perspective and invitation to the table of a multi-generation Oregon wine family that sets this cookbook apart.
Ponzi writes with a breezy, friendly voice, her meaningful anecdotes linger long after turning the page. The reader is reminded that wine really is about food at its pinnacle when shared with family and friends. Now is the time to celebrate what matters most, these simple pleasures. This sentiment is captured most poignantly in her story of coming across an inscription on a ceramic plate as part of a permanent memorial created by artists who had lost loved ones in the California wildfires: Always use the good plates.
“I hope the reader will reach for this cookbook when they need a little inspiration—and relate to someone who has confidently relied on these recipes for years, for a variety of guests and settings,” Ponzi said. “I hope you feel as though you are with friends, flipping through the book, sipping a glass of something nice and that as you see the gorgeous dishes—almost smell them—you feel inspired to go home and make something to share with people you love.”
Kerry Newberry is a Pinot-sipping, vineyard-hopping wine and food writer. She resides in Portland.
The Ponzi Vineyards Cookbook
Release Date: Dec. 1
Publisher: Arnica Publishing
Where to Buy: Ponzi Vineyards Estate Tasting Room (Beaverton), Ponzi Wine Bar (Dundee), select Made in Oregon stores and www.arnicacreative.com .