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Throw Back Tuesday – Fun Article in Cincinnati Enquirer – Rita and her Herbs


I wanted to share this May 2008 article with you. Chuck Martin, the then food editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, was leaving his job and moving down south. He wanted to write an article about herbs and me since, he said, he wanted to end his interesting career at the Enquirer writing about one of the first people he met when he came to Cincinnati. That was me!

Herb diva knows gardening BY CHUCK MARTIN | CMARTIN@ENQUIRER.COM 

May 2008

It’s a good thing Rita Heikenfeld didn’t take that job a decade ago as a dental receptionist.

If she had, she might not have continued to write her weekly cooking column in the Community Press and Record newspapers, write three cookbooks, host a cable TV show and teach countless cooking classes.

And we might not have anyone to call the “Herb Lady.”

Although that receptionist job was a good one – and the personable Heikenfeld would have excelled – she decided to pursue her passion: sharing a love for cooking with herbs and other fresh ingredients.

“I feel very fortunate and blessed to be able to do what I do,” says Heikenfeld, who works as Macy’s regional

culinary professional, coordinating promotional events and training kitchenware sales staff.

That’s in addition to her freelance media obligations, including her Web site, abouteating.com.

Despite her hectic schedule, she looks to be 20 years younger than her age of 62.

Is it the herbs?
“Maybe it’s eating good, healthy food,” she says.

Taking a breather one afternoon, Heikenfeld sits in what she calls her “plain but spacious” kitchen in her home outside Batavia, where she lives with her husband of 38 years, Frank. Their house is perched above the east fork of the Little Miami River, the sound of babbling water seeping through the trees.


She was drawn to herbs because of her mother’s influence. But she says her love for cultivating the plants always has been a means to enhance her cooking.


Menu of jobs


In addition to being a mother and grandmother, Rita Heikenfeld has many job responsibilities, most involving food, cooking and herbs.

Regional culinary professional,


Adjunct professor, University of Cincinnati-Clermont (herbal studies)

Cooking teacher, Macy’s, Jungle Jim’s Market and other schools

Columnist, (“Rita’s Kitchen”) 27 Community Press newspapers in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky

Host, “Love Starts in the Kitchen,” (Cable TV) Union Township Television, Clermont County Local Access Television and Norwood

Heikenfeld in Country Gardens

An article on Rita Heikenfeld, including several of her recipes and herb gardening tips, will be
featured in the summer issue of Country Gardens magazine, set to hit news stands Tuesday.


Herb tips

A starter herb garden might contain any or all of the following: parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, marjoram, oregano, mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena and rose geranium.

  • Plant herbs as close to your kitchen as possible for easy cutting.
  • Most herbs thrive in a well-drained, sunny location.
  • Herbs require little care and don’t need pampering.
  • If you are planting in containers:
  • Be sure container or pot is large enough to support the plants’ root systems.
  • Ensure that containers have excellent drainage.
  • Soil-less potting mixes containing sphagnum peat, vermiculite and perlite are best.
  • Water container herbs more often than those growing in the ground.
  • Fertilize lightly about once a month during growing season.
  • To move container to garden, dig a hole deep enough to come over rim of container

Rita could prepare only a few Lebanese dishes when she got married. But after having her three sons, she taught herself to cook and bake, mostly by trial-and-error.

While Frank continued to work at the Heritage, eventually becoming general manager, Heikenfeld began growing and selling herbs and vegetables to the restaurant, which is how she came to teach her first cooking class.

It was 1988 when someone who was supposed to teach an “Amish Thanksgiving” class at the former Lazarus cooking school, downtown, backed out at the last minute. The school’s director, Carol Tabone, frantically called around to find a replacement instructor.

The chef at the Heritage told her there was a woman who sold vegetables to him who was “into that kind of thing.”

Tabone called Heikenfeld, and her career as a cooking teacher began.

“Rita was a little nervous, but was very engaging,” Tabone remembers of that class.

When she left Lazarus in 1994 to open the Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s Market, Tabone continued to call on Heikenfeld to teach classes.

“Her personality makes her really easy to listen to as a teacher,” Tabone says. “She loves food. She loves cooking. And she lives her life through it.”

Heikenfeld went on to direct cooking schools at Dillard’s and McAlpin’s, only to see the department stores phase out the cooking classes and her job.

Those were the most difficult times, she says. The times when she was tempted to get a “real job” with better pay and benefits.

But Heikenfeld kept writing and teaching, heeding her mother’s advice: “Everybody has to work to make a living, but everybody should do what they love.”

Heikenfeld is a sweet-talking food and herb evangelist, and her biggest reward is having someone come up after a class and tell her they’re now cooking for their family, or they’re growing a pot of basil.

“The gift I have,” she says, “is getting people to try herbs and cooking.”


Permanent link to this article: http://abouteating.com/throw-back-tuesday-fun-article-in-cincinnati-enquirer-rita-and-her-herbs/

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