Photograph by Damon Casarez
Fourteen women—and one brave man—gather on the back porch of the bucolic Zane Grey Estate in Altadena. As they devour hot berry scones smeared with fresh goat cheese (the herd is penned a few feet away), Joseph Shuldiner explains the day’s itinerary. “First up is breadmaking, then mustard, then lunch, followed by canning and finally cheesemaking.” And this all takes place from 10 to 4.
Food Crafting 101 is one of a number of classes offered at the Institute of Domestic Technology, which is the passion project of director Shuldiner, a graphic designer and manager of a popular new local market (see Altadena Farmers’ Market). Courses are taught by superstars of the local artisanal food scene. Erik Knutzen, author of The Urban Homestead, teaches breadmaking. Saving the Season scribe Kevin West shares preservation techniques. The estate’s owner, Stephen Rudicel, teaches milk crafting. These are skills that a generation or two ago were considered basic, but which most of us never acquire. Today learning them can cost as much as $250 a class.
Inside the estate’s detached kitchen, pupils listen to a lecture on botulism as they slice peaches for Earl Grey jam. As the instructors provide guidance, the participants chime in with their own inherited wisdom: “Grandma used pectin,” “A flowered pillowcase works, too.” These tips prove as valuable as the lesson. When the class disbands, a few students linger to pet the goats while the rest inspect their haul: a batch of proofing bread dough to bake at home, a tub of chèvre, and that caramel-colored peach jam. Tomorrow’s breakfast is served.