Solomon Meltzer 1919-2000
Sol "The Herb Man" Meltzer, author of Herb Gardening in Texas, died December 8, 2000, at the age of 81. Known throughout Texas and southern Louisiana for popularizing herbs and encouraging their inclusion in established home gardens, he believed that every home should have a herb garden, and that every townhouse deck and apartment balcony should have flourishing containers of herbs.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, he was an Army Air Corps navigator, flying bombing missions in World War II. Upon his return, he earned a degree in petroleum geology at Colorado School of Mines and served as a geologist first in Calgary, Canada, and then in Georgia and Oklahoma before settling in Texas. He loved gardening, growing fresh fruit and vegetables organically wherever he lived. In the early 1970s he decided to retire from the oil industry and take up gardening full time, eventually focusing on herbs, which were relatively new to Houston's landscape and gardening interests.
Not knowing that much about cooking, he stayed with growing herbs. Indeed, the herb recipes in his book come from some of his favorite restaurants. His timing was perfect in supplying fresh-cut herbs to a growing restaurant industry whose customers were looking for a more sophisticated menu. He was known for introducing himself to a chef by saying, "I'm a grower. Try some of this." He took time with his chefs, telling them about each herb and suggesting ways to use it. He brought them stock plants to put in restaurant kitchen gardens and to test in their own home gardens. He considered himself a "gourmet taster."
Sol was instrumental in supporting early community garden programs in Houston through Urban Harvest, offering encouragement, support and education about herb gardening all along the way. He informally edited several herb growing guides from his own fresh-cut field experience, and gave advice on ways to develop gardens efficiently and inexpensively.
He was characterized as dedicated to bringing a quality product to the restaurant kitchen and got to know chefs across the state. He also came to know restaurant owners, staff, and all their families. He was always optimistic, encouraging, thoughtful, and seemed always to have a new joke to tell or a new way of telling an old one. One noted food writer remembers him for his name, Sol, as a burst of sunshine every time she met him. She vividly remembers munching Italian arugula for the first time many years ago, standing in the middle of his home garden among an array of unusual ethnic culinary herbs, from Thai basil to Vietnamese coriander, epazote, hoja santa, and lemon grass. Over the years her gardens and kitchen were to be blessed with many more of his herbal offerings.
Sol helped maintain his restaurant customers' gardens, and became known for "late-night and early-morning prunings" to meet another restaurant's emergency needs. When this was discovered, no one objected because they knew their gardens would be replenished and their own needs would be similarly met if an emergency arose.
No one knows who first named him "The Herb Man," but his restaurant customers all felt it fit him as "the ambassador of herbs." He took on the name and used it as a source of pride in marketing fresh-cut herbs. Even the license plates of his delivery van said "Herb Man." From herb markets to garden centers and nurseries, Sol promoted herbs whenever and wherever possible. He was generous in answering questions about herbs and always gave a full measure of information to every question asked, even if he had just answered that question the moment before. He was a gardener and a teacher who "... loved all green things growing, who turned and smoothed the earth."
Sol's legacy to the gardening world is his book, Herb Gardening in Texas, now in its 4th edition, and the number of herb gardeners he inspired. His enthusiasm for herbs, showing gardeners how to add them to existing gardens or to start new, small herb gardens, his caring encouragement of those who were afraid they would "kill these little plants," and the information he gave on how to grow and use herbs made the name "Herb Man" fully meaningful.
Sol was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Thelma, in January 2000, and is survived by two daughters and their extensive families, as well as thousands of herb gardeners who owe a bit of their gardens to him. Sprigs of rosemary were passed out to all who attended his memorial on December 14, 2000. It was his signature herb. He will be missed and remembered by many.
Letters and cards may be sent to his daughter Melinda Meltzer at 739 W. William Cannon, #2075 / Austin, Texas 78745. -- Michael Bettler