500 treats plus interviews and photos fill
Peaches & Past Times
By Mike Nichols
Lee Totzke can get you in a jam, or a fuzzy almond or even a stuffed peach. As a matter of fact, this Love County Farm Bureau member has about 500 tested recipes using peaches he can get you into in his new book, Peaches & Past Times Cookbook. The unique book is both a written and pictorial history of peaches and contains recipes for all cooking skill levels. Its pages cover thousands of miles, three centuries and generations of peach growers. The one definite difference between this cookbook and others on the market is the collection of interviews it contains, which makes the recipes more
personal. “I started out to do a small, regional cookbook for southwest Michigan peach growers,” said Lee, who grew up in that part of the Wolverine State in a family of fruit growers near the largest wholesale grower-to-buyer fresh fruit market in the United States. “It was the first time I’ve done such a thing.”
Lee’s father was from a family of 18 children, and his mother was from a family of 13 children. “I inherited all of those old family recipes,” he said. Some of the recipes in the book came from his mother’s old metal recipe box. When he began working on the book, word leaked and his life for the next few years became “peachy.” He was contacted by peach growers in the Stratford area who learned what he was doing, and before his writing and collection journey concluded even the president of the National Peach Growers Association rang his phone. That call convinced Lee to “go national with the
book.” “The word spread. . .One interview started by phone and concluded with me driving over a thousand miles. I needed to look the person in the eyes. Another started at a dining room table and ended hours later in the attic. “Meeting with the original growers grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren who now operate some of the family farms was a pure joy.” He also met with professional chefs, home cooks, small business owners and baking contest winners to assemble the recipes appearing in the book.
About 1,000 recipes were submitted to the publisher, and the list was whittled down to about 500 tested recipes. “Those (the 500 that didn’t make the book) were not bad recipes,” Lee said. “There were just a lot of almost duplicates.” His 240-page hardback book is the first he knows of that is dedicated solely to the peach. And, he’s the first to admit that a peachthemed cookbook is a bit off the beaten path. “It’s unusual. Nothing major had ever been done on peaches before.” Recipes in the book vary from simple farm fare to more challenging creations from chefs. All things peach – from appetizers and beverages, breakfast foods, entrees and side dishes to pies, cakes, desserts and jams, jellies and condiments – are tucked in the book amid both historic and current photos plus interviews.
“It has been really well received,” Lee said of his book. “There’s been a tremendous response from all the distributors around the country. Most states grow peaches, so there’s always a kinship there.” The book sells for $24.95 and is available at most major bookstores plus Amazon.com, the publisher’s website, www.pandpublishing.com, and leetotzke.com. “I don’t know,” Lee answers quickly when asked if he’ll do another book. “I’ve been asked that so much. I have enough to do others.”
The Michigan transplant moved to the Marietta area in 1993 because he had several friends and relatives there. He has a bachelor of science degree in horticulture from Michigan State University and did post graduate work at DuPage Horticultural School in Illinois where he received a specialization in historical gardens. Before coming to Oklahoma, Lee managed several different large nursery businesses in the Chicago area. He also taught hundreds each year in special classes on growing herbs, and worked to help growers with both vegetable and flower gardens.
“It sure is a lot different than Michigan,” he said of his move. “My last winter in Michigan we had 93 inches of snow. My first year here, we had 40 days of 100-plus temperatures.” His expertise in the horticultural arena keeps him busy today with speaking engagements across the United States. “There’s two-year wait on booking me to speak,” Lee said. He speaks to groups as small as 50 all the way
up to 2,000 at state conventions and university functions as well as church groups.
Lee’s first brush with notoriety came when he copyrighted and made the Biblical Wreath. He was seriously ill and hospitalized for about a year when the idea for the wreath came to him. “I needed something to occupy my mind,” said Lee of his long stint in the hospital. “I kept thinking what can I get into.” Lee’s expertise in horticulture and his faith sent him to reading the Bible, where he discovered that more than 100 plants are mentioned in its verses. He picked 30 of those plants to use and make his Biblical wreath. He harvested and dried most of the 30 plants used to make the wreaths, with each one requiring countless hours to manufacture. Drying times for some of the plants were as long as seven weeks. It also took considerable Biblical knowledge and research to discover names of some of the plants, since many were identified by archaic or obsolete names in the Scriptures. The wreaths were extremely popular, gracing the décor of many churches and residences. They also were warmly received by Presidents Bush and Nixon along with Lady Bird Johnson. “The wreath was very popular, but I had to stop making them since one of the chemicals used in the preservative formula came from overseas and became unavailable.” While he can’t make the wreaths anymore, the demand for them spurred Lee to produce prints and canvases of them. He unveiled
another talent – painting – to do the original art for the prints and canvases about 10 or 15 years ago. Pen and ink prints sell for $19.95 each, and the 24- x 38-inch framed full color canvas version is $169.95. They are available on Lee’s website at www.leetotzke.com.
It might seem that Lee’s days are occupied with his writing, speaking engagements and art, but there’s more. His busiest times are monthly at the world’s largest outdoor market, First Monday Trade Days at Canton, Texas. Lee has a 2,000 square-foot-space there named The Uncommon Touch, where he sells home décor, his Biblical Wreath art and copies of his book. He is one of 8,000 vendors at the event, which traces its roots back more than 150 years. The event takes place Thursday through Sunday before the first Monday of each month at the east Texas town. It offers antiques, furniture, home décor, arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, tools, produce and more. “At the last one, we had well over one million customers,” said Lee. “I took checks from people from 30 states. I am so grateful to our customers that have supported us for 16 years. Last month I sold a tremendous amount (of his art). People really enjoy it.”
Lee also has hosted a one-day-per-year show and sale at his place near Marietta. It was by invitation only, and was a big success. “It grew so big I couldn’t handle it,” he says. “The last one was two years ago.” He’s thinking about hosting it again, with maybe a two- or three-show event instead of a one-day. The volunteer fire department at his small community of Enville likely is hoping he does. At previous shows and sales, he did not charge vendors for spaces but asked that they donate 10 percent of their sales to the volunteer fire department. “The fire department was having cake walks to raise money, but it didn’t have to when we had the show and sale.” Since he stopped, the department is back to having its own fundraisers. The fire department recently lavished honors on him for his contributions from the show and sale. “I figure,” Lee concluded, “I need to get the show going again.