How Overseasoned Mixes Family Traditions, Timely Feasts, and Today’s Activist Climate Into Monthly Cookbooks
The first leaves of spring haven’t even sprung in Amy Larson’s tree-lined West Cambridge neighborhood on the day that I visit her, but summer feasts are already on the food writer’s radar.
“It’s the best time for food, obviously,” Larson says conclusively. “A lot of my [family] memories are from summer. We would do beach picnics and my mom would make fried chicken for that a lot. We were always making summer pies … my favorites are blueberry and peach, so I usually start making those in June and July.”
Larson seems to have an entire summer mapped out as she adds littlenecks steamed in beer and oysters to her family’s beach essentials list, but when running a part-time business as seasonally fixed as Overseasoned is, a bit of forward thinking (and a massive arsenal of recipes) never hurts.
Larson began writing recipes under the Overseasoned name two years ago as a tribute to the seasonally minded eating instilled in her by her mother and to her own penchant for adding a lot of new spices and flavors into a recipe.
While trying to find a unique voice in the foodie world without getting lost in a sea of food bloggers, Larson looked to the handwritten recipe cards traded among the cooks of her coastal Rhode Island family.
“That’s why I decided to handwrite my recipes, even though typing it would be one million times faster and easier for me,” Larson says with a chuckle. “My main interest was always the cooking, but when I thought of the design of it, I liked how watercolor and those types of little doodles looked with it, so I started practicing a bit more.”
The Overseasoned mini-cookbooks, initially released at a monthly clip, glued the homemade embellishments of a zine together with the localized pride of a family newsletter. Larson’s handwritten recipes loop confidently above her self-taught watercolor illustrations and delectably plated photographs that occasionally feature her dog, Chowder.
The recipes’ seasonal focus is “inspiring, not limiting” in Larson’s eyes. Old seasonal standbys like pierogis around Oktoberfest mingle effortlessly with quirky Larson family traditions like roast beef sandwiches the night before Thanksgiving dinner. Each issue makes for a personalized seasonal tapestry of cuisine that aims for ease over expertise.
“At first, I was kind of making recipes that I felt were showing off what I knew and liked with creative ingredients that wouldn’t necessarily work with a novice cook,” Larson recalls. “I started going out and exhibiting at different events … and I was talking to people that were saying things like, ‘I want to make biscotti, but I don’t know how,’ or ‘I don’t have time to make fancy things, this is perfect.’ They want something easy, but they want to know how to cook for themselves. I started realizing that I don’t need to try and be like a Bon Appétit Magazine.”
Little anecdotes about each dish’s significance and chipper notes like “let’s do it!” over a shrimp scampi recipe populate Overseasoned’s pages, making for an intimidation-free read. Her recipe for pumpkin gnocchi is a perfect case-in-point: Although the recipe is listed as “advanced,” Larson dutifully breaks down the steps in a timeline over a picture of the rolled-out gnocchi, with a handwritten “yum!” awaiting at the end of the line.
Still, the desire to impress and inspire more creative cooks in the kitchen remains on Larson’s mind as well as in the pages of Overseasoned. Coming from an Italian family that remains in the kitchen from sunrise until 10 p.m. on most holidays and serves the marathon Feast of Seven Fishes every Christmas, Larson frames seasonal cooking as a welcoming challenge to explore the unexplored reaches of your local market and come out with something new for dinner.
“Sometimes it’s daunting if you have this giant horde of tomatoes and you don’t know what you’re going to do with them and they’re going to get rotten,” Larson adds. “You can get past that and think of all the different things you can make with it. [It’s about] forcing yourself to be creative with the ingredients.”
Overseasoned is as much a display of Larson’s own philosophies on life and food as of her upbringing. In the wake of the Women’s March in downtown Boston last January, Larson drew up a slogan and design that would become the business’s unofficial logo: “Smash the Garlic and The Patriarchy.” The design now adorns aprons, tea towels, and tote bags, and a portion of the proceeds from her sales go to Planned Parenthood.
“You can be working in the kitchen and really enjoy that, but also be a feminist,” Larson adds. “It’s about how it intersects and works together, not against each other.”
In recent months, the monthly mini-cookbooks have been put on hold, but it’s all part of Larson’s plan to expand Overseasoned’s reach.
With influences as far-ranging as feminist food publication Cherry Bombe and local restaurant Oleana, Larson’s work now includes submitting recipes to Fresh Magazine, offering her services to local couples looking for wedding cakes, teaching pie-making classes at the Local Fare in Arlington, and tabling at events like Food Book Fair in New York. Her underlying goal is ultimately to reach out to more people in the community on a face-to-face, dish-to-dish level.
“I really like just giving people food on the spot and seeing their reaction to it. When it’s just recipe testing, it’s just me working by myself, so doing the events and being with other people is something I really like.”
Still, Overseasoned’s seasonal recipe entries aren’t things of the past. Larson is currently going through the 200 recipes she pulled together from the original run of mini-cookbooks, re-testing them, and tightening the list to 100 for a full-length Overseasoned cookbook organized by each month of the year. The undertaking involves reshooting photos, repainting a few designs, and a whole laundry list of considerations, but Larson is resolved in her solo effort.
“Some other cookbook authors have a photographer and a stylist, but then some just do it all themselves,” Larson says. “I really like those kinds of people.”