Our region’s top chefs and restaurateurs simply refer to her as Eva, but like most rock stars, she really does have a last name: Sommaripa. Unlike most celebrities, Eva has revolutionized her field quietly, over the course of decades, and has clearly retained her focus and energy for the long haul. We sent Pam Denholm to unearth a few life lessons from the fabled Dartmouth herb farmer.
I am forty-one years old, and I don’t have a pressure cooker. I had no idea this was, indeed, a problem. My kitchen is well stocked with other signs of an adventurous cook, but somehow the one piece of equipment Eva deems absolutely essential in every ‘green’ kitchen has evaded me. She recommends other gadgets too, a Vitamix or equally powerful blender—check, I have that, cast iron cookware—check, a good mandolin—check, a dehydrator—check, in fact, we made our own!—this last tidbit fascinates her, and she presses for more details.”…we used a small fan out of a computer, a lightbulb for some dry heat, the box is out of wood. It works a treat!” I share with a smile.
Eva claps her hands in delight! “A computer fan and a lightbulb! You must send me the plans!” her eyes bright with curiosity. “Did you know, that you can roast coffee beans in a popcorn maker? A popcorn maker!” she exclaims, “and coffee bean husks are excellent for your garden! Worms love it.”
This is how our conversation zig-zags, and within five minutes of meeting Eva in her upstairs office, overlooking her greenhouses, I have developed a crush on her. We loop back to pressure cookers—deemed essential because of the very little water needed for cooking, the shortened cooking time, and resultant energy savings all make it the greenest, most environmentally-friendly way to cook food. Plus, food cooked in a pressure cooker is delicious, nutrient dense, and offers intense flavor. I’m convinced I need one. Immediately. Eva even makes some brand name recommendations while I compile a mental list of appliance stores between her farm and home.
Welcome to Eva’s, where mindful use of resources, frugality, and good fresh food is the guiding compass that infuses every aspect of her farm, and her life.
Eva was raised in the Midwest and was an Art Major at Wellesley College before studying Ceramics at Rhode Island School of Design. While at RISD, she spent carefree weekends and summers in Dartmouth. She loved the landscape and learned to garden, remembering the local legend, friend, and gardening mentor, Dodi Powell, with great affection. Later, in 1972, Eva and her husband were living in Cambridge when they heard of a property close to Dodi’s might be for sale. The couple visited, fell in love with the land, and they bought it.
The farm’s development though, was not born as quickly. Eva and her husband spent weekdays in Cambridge, punctuated by weekends in Dartmouth. Eva relished time in her garden and started bringing fresh herbs back to Boston to share with chefs in her neighborhood, who loved the freshness and quality. Eva originally thought she could garden in the summer and make pottery in the winter, but demand grew and so did Eva’s reputation! Eva started selling her herbs to pay for gas money, but it didn’t take long for Eva’s Garden to blossom into a full-time three-acre organic farm, supplying herbs and delicate greens to some of the most discerning palettes between Boston and Providence.
I’m captivated by her and we head out to one of her greenhouses. Eva hands me a flat bucket and some scissors. Bright green rows of baby greens peek out of dark soil, rich and earthy. Even the air feels alive. Eva has dinner plans and promised her hosts a green salad, and she cannot send me home empty handed—so we glean from previously harvested rows, and talk and snip. It is unusual for a farmer to have predominantly chefs for customers, and I ask Eva about it. She contemplates, bent over some lobed kale leaves, she says she gets along with chefs because they are innately curious and eager to try new things, or rediscover forgotten things. She is always introducing them to new plants, or new parts of plants (you eat the leaves, have you tried the flowers? The roots? The bark? The stems?) Eva lives on the edge of discovery herself and is always learning. Most of what she knows she learned through trial and error, her inquiring mind forever at work.
Eva encourages me to add marjoram to my bucket and as much of the peppery nasturtium leaves and flowers as I like. Miner’s lettuce too, also known as Claytonia perfoliata or winter purslane which used to be eaten by California gold rush miners to prevent scurvy.
Eva says she “loves gardening, weeding, watching things grow, and the eating—that’s good too! Your palette evolves the more plants you eat,” she claims, adding “when I first tried arugula, I didn’t like it all! Now, I love all spicy, bitter, mustard greens.” Although she grows a wide variety of greens, herbs, and flowers, she also loves to forage for native wild edibles, like sassafras, juniper berries, and pine spruce—which makes an excellent rub for meat. “There is a lot of stuff out there you can eat, that you don’t know you can eat,” Eva says. She’s a ‘little-of-this, little-of-that’ kind of cook who lets the field, the freezer, or a bartering neighbor dictate what’s for dinner—she is seldom intimidated! “I’ve tried some interesting things over the years, but I’ve never made anything that is inedible,” she assures. Eva has no shortage of willing dinner guests either: chefs, neighbors, artists, fellow farmers, and friends—Eva’s is a popular clambake of delicious food, late nights, and lively conversation!
Much of what Eva eats is grown or harvested on the farm, foraged, or bartered for with neighbors. For example, Eva allows hunters to help keep farm deer populations in check in return for a cut of venison; while she has a few chickens she gets duck eggs from a nearby farm, and Eva has no problem asking chefs to save the less favored red meat from swordfish, or some otherwise wasted morsel she can put to good use. Eva is a pioneer of the local food movement, and she is resourceful. Her neighbor, an expert fermenter, combines their seasonal seconds into kimchi, and Eva pickles deer hearts and kidneys—she uses everything and abhors waste, even saving water from cooked pasta or rice to reuse in a soup or stew.
Over the years she has seen a lot of change, “Did you know,” she sidebars, “about the grain revival going on in this area?” Then launches into an interesting fact she learned about the use of lime water to soak corn. The process (nixtamalization) softens the hard corn kernel, improves flavor, and makes it easier to grind. It also enables you to make cornmeal pancakes by just adding hot water—no eggs! “If you put it in the pressure cooker, it cooks like that!” Eva snaps her fingers, “then throw it into your blender for a nice cornmeal mush you can use to make the best Johnny Cakes.”
With our buckets full of vibrant greens, we head back inside. The packing area under her office is neat and tidy. Everything has a place. Old plastic bags are stored for reuse, twisty ties are saved, scissors hung on a board, and buckets neatly stowed. Eva was also living sustainably before it became a trend, and farming organically before labels. She never wanted to tell her children, who wandered through her garden picking sun-ripened edibles, that plastic bag, I dropped two baby leaves on the counter, Eva swiftly deposited them in the compost bin at my feet.
Eva cares deeply about the results of her own actions and has lived this way for most of her life. The ‘Queen of Green’ I call her, and Wellesley College agrees, they bestowed upon her the Alumnae Achievement Award in 2014. Eva is the first farmer ever to receive the award, given in recognition for being a ‘Champion of Sustainable Living’.
With the interview drawing to a close, we head from the packing area to her house sheathed under solar panels. Eva’s home is a lot like her; an eclectic collection of artistry, passion, and purpose. Rooms are attached to rooms, and treasures squirreled away for future use—be they nuggets of useful information, like how to build a dehydrator or scraps of paper for writing useful messages. It occurs to me that the many signs and messages I have seen posted all around the farm to ‘close this door’ or ‘turn that off ‘ are not just a reflection of Eva’s mindfulness, but also a testament to the many newcomers who cross her threshold coming to experience her magic and mastery.
Eva doesn’t follow trends, like most innovators, she forges her own path. She herself has become a local legend, especially among chefs, and she is a welcoming, charming, outspoken, and sprightly guide. I asked her if, at 78 years of age she has any plans to retire? “You know,” she says, “I just haven’t figured that out yet!”
Homage to Eva: recipes
This recipe brings together some of Eva’s key themes—the found, the exchanged, the salvaged—and seasons them with a few of her pet flavors (juniper berries and winter savory). We even cook part of it in a pressure cooker! You don’t have to stick to every detail; just channel Eva’s spirit and use what’s at hand, in terms of both ingredients and equipment.
105 Jordan Road
Dartmouth, MA 02748
Pam Denholmis the owner of South Shore Organics, a farm-to-table delivery service. She is now also the owner of her first ever, second-hand Kuhn Rikon Duromatic pressure cooker: quiet, super-safe, extremely attractive, and ‘everyday practical’.