Little did writer, art critic, and co-founder of design brand, Permanent Collection know that the title of her culinary memoir, Always Home, would resonate so deeply with its readers, no matter their location. Publishing her poignant story of a life defined and enriched by cooking, Fanny Singer has distilled the importance of nurturing ourselves through real food, her remembrances captured alongside recipes, which have enriched her own travels and relationships. Speaking to Fanny remotely as she resides at home in California, she reflects on writing Always Home, and how, in many ways, it could not have been released at a more apt time.
On some level, I think it was the perfect moment for a book about needing to feel like you're home in both figurative and literal ways, says Fanny, speaking from her apartment in San Francisco before driving to her dad's vineyard in western Sonoma County. People have said to me that the book is both a salve and almost a toolkit for what to do and what to make when you're longing for a feeling of comfort. I feel thankful that Always Home could provide that.
Based in San Francisco, Fanny tells the story of growing up with the celebrated American chef, sustainable food pioneer, and activist Alice Waters as her mother. For those uninitiated to the magnitude of Alice Waters' influence and her place in America's culinary history, she is best described as the creator of California Cuisine'. For over 44 years, Alice has been the proprietor of legendary Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse and her philosophy of cooking with only the freshest, seasonal, and most local ingredients began before the word 'organic' was common lexicon. Alice has long been devoted to celebrating local farms and their produce, eating communally and taking joy in the beauty of a piece of ripe fruit, say, or a summer spent dining on locally caught, wild salmon baked in fig leaves.
Growing up the daughter of this respected food icon, and with a life defined in so many ways by food, Fanny has an aptitude for honouring ingredients, savouring seasonal flavours, and most importantly, sharing those culinary experiences with others. Immersed in traditions and rituals at home from an early age, Fanny chronicles her unique perspective across vignettes paired with recipes, beautifully. The recipes are extremely simple, making the most out of ingredients in a rustic way, explains Fanny, before adding that people are realizing now, for the first time, that if there wasn't local production of vegetables and bread and so on, they wouldn't have anything fresh to eat, so to actually support local producers is really important.
More than an ethical commitment or a lifestyle, Fanny observes that her shared philosophy with her mom has, more recently, become about survival. We have wanted for nothing in Berkeley, because we have so many local producers, she says. Whether it's honey, goats milk, bread, eggs, people raising chickens in their gardens. There's a network of incredible farms that exist here, in part because of Chez Panisse, she enthuses, because Chez Panisse has been committed to sourcing local, sustainable, regenerative produce from a network of friends for nearly 50 years.
Fanny's passion, which no doubt echoes that of her mother's, is deeply rooted in a sustainable, community-driven outlook; from the produce, of course, but also in her focus on educating and even her approach to fashion. Her design brand Permanent Collection co-founded with Mariah Nielson, is a curated edit of timeless objects and garments made in collaboration with craftspeople. The guiding ethos was this idea of creating products based on historical pieces that had a lot of aesthetic and design value and making them again, she explains. Each understated yet indispensable piece becomes an instant heirloom, an approach that aligns closely with TOAST. We began to transition a little bit more towards home and are working in collaboration with my mom, sourcing some of her favourite pieces from her collection, adds Fanny. Alongside an indispensable mortar and pestle, Fanny and Mariah have refabricated Alice's Egg Spoon', based on a 17th century iron tool that she discovered in a book.
Fanny paints an intimate memoir that chronicles her life so far through the lens of elaborate lunch boxes prepared for school to the simple beauty of an egg fried in a spoon over her mom's open firethe latter of which has an entire chapter devoted to it. Fanny humorously explains that she could tell if her mom liked a boyfriend she brought home by how readily she volunteered to make him an egg cooked in the fireplace. While the recipe itself is no more than a cracked egg with sea salt and pepper, it's the preparation of lovingly building a fire, of coaxing the logs into a perfect smoulder before finally balancing the long-handled spoon above the heat that brings this story to life. In a continuation of this ritual, the cherished implement, is now reproduced by a female blacksmith in the Bay area for Permanent Collection.
In Always Home, Fanny delivers a characterful ode to food and family, a coming-of-age, if you will. Growing up, food was like this dependable language that could exist outside of language and that meant I always knew the constancy of my mom's love because she was making me beautiful nourishing things, she explains. Many of these recipes are included in this memoir and are the ones Fanny returns to when cooking in her own home and when she visits her mom in Berkeley where they often now cook together. My mom always says eating is a political act' and for me, eating seasonally and locally are now non-negotiable, she stresses. This pandemic has absolutely highlighted it and it's something we have to take a stand on.
Always Home, A Daughter's Culinary Memoir (Seven Dials) is out now. View the latest pieces for Permanent Collection including Alice's Egg Spoon here.
Words by Andie Cusick.
Images by Brigitte Lacombe.