Though stumbling and straining under our various burdens, we find ourselves once again at the threshold of the holiday season, perhaps this time feari


Though stumbling and straining under our various burdens, we find ourselves once again at the threshold of the holiday season, perhaps this time fearing the worst while hoping for the best. Short of silver linings, I seek, at least, compensation. Balance.


The Glass Mansion, St. Helena California, September 28th


As a veteran of fleeing flames I did not hesitate to evacuate when the Glass Fire broke out here in the northern Napa Valley in late September. After 8 days in exile the fire line held at the empty city of Calistoga, my home. By the dogged efforts of 1700 firefighters and the caprice of wind direction I once again was spared the sight of my life as a layer of ash. Our house survived, the majolica, this year’s fruitcakes, marmalade and jam were all still there. All fruitcakes, thankfully, are finally wrapped and available once more.


Often I’ve spoken of my friend Gene Lester here, an erudite figure in many worlds, from restoring vintage vehicles to his collections of Caucasian kilims, avocados, pink-fleshed apples and, most dear to me, over 500 varieties of citrus fruit. His small ranch perched on the hills above Watsonville poses an inspiring hundred-mile view from Monterey to Santa Cruz, and the privilege of harvesting fruit there has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures. Sadly, after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease, Gene passed away there on September 26th.


View from Gene Lester's Ranch

Avuncular, opinionated and generous, he was never happier than when sharing his expertise with an eager ear. As unique as his many specimens, there will never be another like him, but his spirit survives in the vast knowledge and contagious fascination with his collections that he shared with so many. Sampson tangello, kiefer lime, shekwasha, Sacaton citrumelo, Marrakesh limetta, calamondin, yuzu, Poorman orange, Celebes papeda, finger limes, the list is endless. Thanks to Gene for sharing these unique flavors with me, that I might share them with you.


For much of my working life I have toiled by the light of my Mother’s expertise and example; for her, the final challenge has at last been met. When she started hospice care in August I went back to visit and cook: lobster and champagne, a pot roast from fillet Mignon, Chicken Piccata with lemons from a niece in Arizona, a pie with the first Duchess apples from the farm--her Mother’s tree. She passed away peacefully just as she’d hoped, at home in her sleep, on September 1st at 99 years and 6 months. She was the last member of her family.


Both her parents were immigrants with childhood memories of log cabins on a raw frontier. Her own journey, guided by a reverence for the food that had sustained them, led to a lifetime of daily serving others. When the vicissitudes of great age caused her to accept that care for herself, she did so with surprising grace and characteristic good humor--to the last an exemplar of life’s central pleasures: stories, food and family.


In parsing the humble contents of my Parent’s home, two tiny battered pie tins of absolutely no value were most prized. Three generations had tucked dough scraps into them at her elbow, later feasting on the hot fragrant pastry, its lessons manifest on our tongues.


I am grateful for the wisdom gained around her table--the sharing, teaching and telling that reveals domestic culture as the ultimate source and true seat of civilization. There lies our love and strength, and ultimately, therein lies our salvation. Enjoy your food, your families, your friends, your stories, however you can safely do so. Laugh hard and often. Things may have value, but only time is precious. And remember to look for beauty. It’s everywhere.

All My Best To You,

Robert Lambert
Calistoga, California
October 2020