a Colorado online magazine            September 10, 2000


FrontRangeLiving.com -> Cooking -> Barbara Ciletti

Barbara Ciletti - A Woman For All Seasons

"I love to find out how things came to be. If I could, I'd watch the first plant sprout. I sit, and I try to imagine how nature gets put together, how the universe builds upon itself," Barbara Ciletti, cookbook author and master gardener.

Barbara Ciletti is a woman who believes that the simple act of pickling can change your perspective. She believes in nature's own traditions, and man's reverence for soil, earth and community. Without them, she reasons, we wouldn't grow our gardens or seek the uncommon solace of parks.

When she moves among the lush beds surrounding her Longmont home -- tending, weeding and nurturing with a genetic passion -- generations of gardeners from her large Italian clan are working the gardens, too.

"I remember my grandfather's garden in Western Pennsylvania, and gardening there with my parents, Leonard and Carmela Ciletti," she says. "The flashbacks to my childhood are so vivid. I can catch a scent of raspberries or apples or cherries and that sends me right into gathering walnuts in the fall, or to the bottom land my father always walked after the first frost."

Barbara's parents had a little more than a half-acre, abutting a large apple orchard, most of which was cultivated. "We had berry bushes, roses, jonquils, irises and portulaca," she says. "My parents never ceased to take delight in watching things grow, and my late father experimented with grafting and test specimens."

During her high school and college years, the study of English and history dominated Barbara's life. In graduate school at Rutgers University in New Jersey, she was drawn to the larger cuisines of ethnic cooking, as well as to Eric Schreiber, whom she married in 1975. He is a vice-president and branch manager at Stifel Nicolaus, a century-old brokerage house.

When they heeded the clarion call, coming west to Colorado in 1976, Barbara felt as if she'd gone from a Garden of Eden to a desert. So much of what she'd been accustomed to growing in the rich yielding soil of Western Pennsylvania was now unavailable.

Learning To Love Colorado's Gardening Conditions

"This is not the natural habitat for azaleas or magnolias, or anything requiring moist humid climates and a denser covering of clouds," she says. "Here, the environment teaches us how to cultivate plants and trees with hardy root systems that can survive with little water, in high altitude, and in a climate that creates a high degree of easy evaporation."

Barbara celebrates the opportunities presented to the Front Range gardener. "We're graced with the opportunity to grow plants with spidery shallow root systems, species that can survive in the worst and driest of climates," she says. "And we can develop foods that can be easily dried, an advantage over moister climates, which don't allow for that under natural conditions."

Looking at the wide variety of herbs and peppers that can be cultivated and stored by drying and pickling changes your view, she says. "I can sun dry a bushel of plum tomatoes easily in two to three days. Back East, you couldn’t do that because of unpredictable rain showers."

Her expansive Front Range view, both of mountains and plains, opens the senses, says Barbara, who is a lay minister of the Eucharist at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. "I feel a high degree of personal freedom in such a huge open place, and it has a subtle effect on my understanding of what I perceive to be limitations."

Combining Books, Cooking and Gardening

Recently, Barbara moved her book and magazine development company, Odyssey Books, from a home office into the first floor of an historic 1886 Longmont landmark. From there, she continues to develop and market children's books and illustrated non-fiction for adults such as cooking, gardening and crafts.

"I've been looking for a work space like this for a long time," she says. "I work with people all over the country, and here, there's room for book development projects, as well as a screened-in porch and a kitchen for recipe development. The landlord has offered the grounds to me for herb cultivation."

Growing things is more than a labor of love for Barbara, who is a trial gardener for White Flower Farm (owner of Shepard's Seeds) in Litchfield, Connecticut. She plants and cultivates vegetables and herbs sent to her by the company, and provides written reports on how they thrived -- or struggled -- in this climate.

"I like the details of how something responds to first conditions," she says. "I'm also writing an article for a Spring 2001 issue of Kitchen Garden Magazine (Taunton Press) about how you can cultivate in higher, drier climates. Scallions, for instance, require cool weather."

Details also permeate Barbara's cookbooks. Her first book, "The Pepper Harvest Cookbook" (Taunton Press) is a beautifully illustrated primer on peppers with tips on the history of peppers as well as myriad recipes for enjoying them, many handed down through her own family.

In "The Onion Harvest Cookbook" (Taunton Press) we explore the world of marbled, glazed, striped and porcelain strains of softnecks and hardnecks. Next, in "Making Great Cheese" (Lark Books) Barbara shows the reader that a great ricotta or a marvelous cheddar can begin at home.

Her new book, "Creative Pickling" (Lark Books) honors her mother, Carmela, who now lives in Colorado Springs and is still an active cook and gardener.

Barbara has turned to the seven seas in "Charting Culinary Courses," partnering with A.B. Hirschfield Press of Denver. Due out in October, this is a compendium of highly creative recipes that take the armchair traveler into a world where extraordinary dining becomes a daily event. Yacht chef Dirk de Cuyper shares his passion for simplicity and great taste with colorful recipes for every occasion.

Autumn Brings A Ripeness

Now, with the turning of seasons, Barbara urges us to look at our gardens with a new eye. Autumn, she says, is the zenith and nadir of cultivation. "With so many vegetables really coming forward at the same time -- all the chilis, artichokes, soybeans and onions, it's a mixed blessing," she says. "While you're celebrating a robust harvest, you're forced to acknowledge the withering of sunflowers and the roses yawning to a halt."

Even the autumn soil changes, she says, no longer smelling like blossoms, but of a ripeness. "We can sense the summer work, but we have nearly the whole month of October to enjoy a wide variety of flowers. Now is the time to decide what we'll plant for next year. The fall turning of the soil is an expression of our willingness to yield to nature one more time. We're saying, Okay, I did it once, I'll do it again."

The season will bring other transformations for Barbara this year. She and Eric will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, to adopt two children, a boy, 3, and a six-year old girl. "It will be a huge change for us and we're very excited," she says. "I can't think of anything more delightful than to have the opportunity to take the world of riches passed to me and open them up for children. They're the hope for the future, life renewing itself, and that's all connected with everything I try to do."

See Barbara Ciletti's recipe for 'Chicken Paprika'

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