Brennan' s career as a cookbook writer just blossomed

March 9, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Georgeanne Brennan of Winters makes her career as a successful cookbook writer sound easy.

In 1982, she was teaching school in Dixon. "I listened to those kids slam their lockers and I thought there had to be a better life," she said.

So she and Charlotte Glenn started Le Marche Seeds, an heirloom vegetable seed company with a recipe-filled catalog.

One thing led to another and she now is the author of more than 12 books on cooking and gardening.

"I always wanted to be a writer or an artist," she said, describing how she came to be published. But as with many careers it didn't follow a direct line.

Brennan grew up in Southern California and attended San Diego State University, the University of Aix-Marseille in Provence and UC San Diego where she studied medieval history. She also earned a state teaching credential. After marrying a fellow student in 1963, she lived in southern France for two years before returning to California to finish her graduate degree and teach. In 1970, the Brennans bought a house in southern France where they kept goats, made and sold goat cheese, raised and sold feeder pigs.

In 1979 she and her husband took teaching jobs in an Eskimo whaling village above the Arctic Circle where she learned to sew Eskimo parkas, make socks and mittens from skins, cook snow owl, moose, seal, wild duck and fish.

In 1982 she returned to Northern California, began teaching, and began the seed company and catalog. To Brennan's surprise, the catalog was reviewed just like a book and featured in national magazines. Hundreds of catalog requests, each accompanied by checks for $2, began coming in.

"So (Charlotte and I) thought it would be a good idea to write a column," she said. They called a few newspapers and ended up writing two weekly newspaper columns for the San Jose Mercury News and the SF Chronicle. Brennan still writes a weekly column for the Chronicle.

"And then we got a call to write a cookbook," she said. That became "The New American Vegetable Cookbook" published in 1984, now out of print.

Eventually they sold Le Marche to a major seed company. Glenn went on to pursue other interests and Brennan began to write fulltime.

"I wanted to write about seasonal cooking and French vegetables," she said. The result, with many stops and starts, was "Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style."

"It seems we've lost a lot of that (cooking from the garden) in the United States due to long-distance shipping," she said. "I wanted to go back to our roots, to fresh seasonal ingredients. If you do that, it's awfully difficult for whatever you cook not to be good."

But it took a long time for "Potager" to be published. Brennan's agent submitted the book to every editor in New York for two years. No one was interested because they couldn't decide if it was a book about gardening or a book about cooking.

"Then a friend suggested Chronicle Books," said Brennan. "I submitted it and no one called back so I took the editor to lunch." Brennan ended up signing a contract with Chronicle Books and at that point she began to learn firsthand how cookbooks are published.

"Even though I cooked it or grew it becomes a different reality," she said. She learned to deal with photographers -- and anyone familiar with her books knows how important the beautiful photographs are - copy editors, designers and editors. The result was a book she's very happy with and "Potager" has been translated in French and German.

Brennan said it has always been easy for her to make up recipes.

"We just always did it, my mother and grandmother and I," she said.

The family tradition is continuing with publication of a cookbook on sun-dried tomatoes written with daughter Ethel Brennan.

"If you're out in the country and all you have is chicken and make chicken and prunes," she added. "I know a French chef who says there is nothing new in flavor combinations."

Her most recent book is "Apertifs: Spirited Recipes in the French Style," published by Chronicle Books. In November she published "Down to Earth: Great Recipes for Root Vegetables."

She said "Roots" had a long germination process - she thought about it for three years and then wrote it on her computer in six months.

One of her most popular books has been "The Glass Pantry: Preserving Seasonal Flavors."

"I am a fulltime writer now," she said, although she has been approached to do a gardening/cooking show. So although she divides her time between her small farm outside Winters and a home in Provence, watch for her on TV. It could happen.

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