Mogul. Magnate. Martha. Just mention her name and there’s no confusing who you are talking about. But Martha Stewart is more than just a wildly successful entrepreneur; she is an icon in every sense of the word. For decades, Stewart has been the authority for millions around the world who religiously rely on her expertise surrounding everything from preparing an unforgettable meal to decorating a home in dazzling fashion. The merchandise she endorses can be found on shelves everywhere from Macy’s to Staples. She publishes four magazines and, as an author, she’s penned more than 70 books. Her TV show can be seen on Hallmark Channel through the end of the summer and she has her own satellite radio station. Seemingly, there aren’t enough hours in the day for someone of her ilk. But, then again, no one said building a lifestyle brand was supposed to be easy; Stewart just makes it feel that way with a homespun approach and her everywoman personality.
We sat down with the Nutley native, and 2011 New Jersey Hall of Fame inductee, to discuss her latest book, Martha’s American Food. It’s a comprehensive collection of some of the most familiar fare you’ll find across the country and loaded not only with the recipes (check out the blueberry crisp on page 63), but the history behind the dishes. Stewart also tells us about her love of area farms, her unique ability to talk to animals, and why she considers herself a teacher above all else.
SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE: So, tell us about the new book and the inspiration behind it.
MARTHA STEWART: I’m very excited about the book because there are so many interesting recipes throughout the country that are quintessentially American. We tried to compile them all into this one volume and it really works—the recipes are delicious; the facts and the dialogue are interesting.
SJM: In the introduction of Martha’s American Food, you cite how much research and effort you and your staff put forth on selecting which foods to highlight. Was it a conscious decision to include the backstories, because while these are all foods people may be familiar with, they may not necessarily know their origin?
MS: It was very much a conscious [decision]. So many don’t know what’s indigenous to America. We’ve been collecting these recipes for a lot of years.
SJM: You break down the different cuisines by region. Did you discover anything new about the distinct tastes and cultures across the country?
MS: All the research for this book taught me a tremendous amount about regional flavors, regional crops, indigenous botanical and biological foods all discovered in the Americas. And the recipes that we have chosen for the book include those foods: blueberries, cranberries, wild rice, squash, chilies, various nuts, various sea foods … indigenous, edible species: wild turkey, crab, lobster, oysters.
SJM: You published your first book in 1982. Looking back, did you ever anticipate growing such an empire?
MS: I was hoping at the time the subject of living would expand enough to cover a number of subjects; it has proven to be more expansive than I thought. We have done so much with collecting, entertaining, crafting, good food, decorating, design, weddings, and kids … it’s been extremely expansive and rewarding as a result.
SJM: You clearly state in the new book that trying to define American food is difficult. Does that also make it more exciting in a way, that there are no definitive boundaries?
MS: Totally. Finding a new way to make something, a new recipe for an apple pie or a chili, is always very exciting.
SJM: What’s your favorite recipe from the book?
MS: I love the fried chicken recipe, the cioppino recipe; there are a lot of good ones.
SJM: Your products are currently in 8,500 different retail outlets across the country. Do you ever shy away from the term “mogul”?
MS: No, I don’t mind it at all.
SJM: Does being considered such an icon ever become a burden in any way, in a sense that sometimes you wish there was a little bit normalcy in your life?
MS: Oh, I lead a very normal life, I do. I raise animals on my farm, grow my own vegetables, I garden, I visit friends.
SJM: Having accomplished so much in your career, are you still looking for new challenges in life?
MS: There’s so many things. … I have a couple of new businesses that I really want to get off the ground and I want to expand our merchandise internationally.
SJM: You’ve served as inspiration for so many others; but who inspires you?
MS: Every single day I get inspired by artisans, by fine growers of plants, artists, by chefs, every single day.
SJM: Being a woman with Jersey roots, we have to ask if you ever spent much time in our area.
MS: When I was in high school, the only place I ever went on vacation was the beach from Asbury Park on down further south. I also babysat for two lovely couples in Long Beach Island; I was an au pair for the summer. I love it there; it’s so beautiful and has really gorgeous beaches. That was a lot of fun. I’ve visited farms all over the state from South Jersey to the north. I’m interested in growing things and New Jersey farmers know how to grow so well, from tomatoes to peas and onions. I also love the Pine Barrens.
SJM: You were elected into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last year; how does that rank among the countless honors you have received during your career?
MS: I was very honored; it’s a lot of fun to be recognized by one’s state, the state I feel very close to, having been 100 percent schooled in Nutley schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. I got a great education and I had wonderful teachers and a very nice childhood. I still go back to visit; I go to my reunions. We have one coming up and I’m going with a group of friends.
SJM: Obviously you spend a lot of time in the public eye, but is there anything that people would be surprised to know about you? Any hidden talents or guilty pleasures?
MS: I don’t think people realize how much I really do garden. And I go horseback riding every week. I am intensely aware of the environment and what’s going on and pay a lot of attention. I’m also extremely interested in my Center for Living at Mount Sinai Hospital [in New York]. It’s really an important initiative for me, as it helps people over the age of 65 grow old gracefully and with dignity.
SJM: I’ve read that you have a special language you speak with animals. Care to elaborate on that?
MS: I speak to my horses in a horse language, my dogs in a dog language my birds in a bird language. I have lots of ways to talk to people [laughs].
SJM: How many pets do you own?
MS: Six cats, three dogs, 25 red canaries, three donkeys, five horses, 200 chickens, geese … I have a lot of animals.
SJM: If you could entertain any five guests in the world, who would it be and what would you prepare?
MS: President Barack Obama, [President of China] Hu Jintao, [President of Russia] Dmitry Medvedev, [President of Brazil] Dilma Rouseff and [President of India] Smt. Pratibha Devisingh, and I would prepare an all-American dinner.
SJM: There are so many different avenues you do business in. How often are you approached with an idea that you turn down?
MS: Quite often—some ideas are just too offhand or random.
SJM: What’s the one gadget or tool in the kitchen you couldn’t live without?
MS: A very good, sharp knife.
SJM: Being as successful as you are, how important is it for you to give back and impart some wisdom to fledgling businesspeople, especially women who are inspired by what you’ve accomplished?
MS: I feel being a teacher is my role in life. I impart a tremendous amount of knowledge. … I have a channel on Sirius, a very good how-to radio channel. You can learn about food, about gardening, lifestyle, design, decoration and pets. We write the books, we have a well-read website, and of course our daily TV program. Free advice is so hard to come by these days, and I’m in the business of imparting information to the broadest audience.
Blueberry Crisp Serves 8
For the filling:
6 cups (3 pints) fresh blueberries
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
For the topping:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
½ cup chopped nuts, such as almonds (optional)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon coarse salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Make the filling: Mix blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and salt in a bowl. Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish.
2. Make the topping: In a medium bowl, stir together flour, oats, nuts, baking powder and salt. With an electric mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir flour mixture into butter. Using your hands, squeeze topping pieces together to form clumps.
3. Sprinkle topping evenly over filling. Bake until filling is bubbling in center and topping is golden brown, about one hour. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 30 minutes before serving.
Reprinted from the book Martha’s American Food by Martha Stewart. Copyright © 2012 by Martha Stewart. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2 (May, 2012).
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