NOT TOO MANY years ago, those among us with garlic fetishes or an all-consuming passion for sprouts had nowhere to turn for consolation. Chocoholics and cooking contest aficionados thought they were alone in their unique culinary fancies.
Now, thanks largely to the surge of newsletter activity beginning in the '70s, these people and others have been brought together, in spirit at least, by specialized publications geared to fellow hard-core enthusiasts.
Culinary freaks rejoice. You have a penchant for basil? There's a newsletter with you in mind. In fact, some 700 "Basil Bits" subscribers gathered just last month for a basil blast in Parma, Mich., and the journal's founder, Marilyn Hampstead, boasted of having another 200 on a waiting list. "And there were only four no-shows," she said.
Do you have a weakness for chocolate? Rest assured. There's a forum just for you, and it even comes chocolate scented. Then there's the "Coffee Connoisseur" to give you step-by-step instructions for a coffee tasting, "a pleasant alternative to the cocktail party," or "Living with Herbs" with its thesis espousing the virtues of bathing in you-know-what.
In addition to the more extreme and categorical letters, there are those providing an abundance of academic and issue-oriented information. Respected nutritional advice and serious cooking ideas are to be found in offerings such as the "Tufts University Diet and Nutrition" monthly, "Nutrition Week," "Foodtalk" and "Culinary Arts News."
Food-related newsletters account for a relatively small percentage of the overall subscription newsletter trade, according to Howard Penn Hudson, president of The Newsletter Clearinghouse, whose firm lists only about 25 such titles.
"There are probably a million newsletters" around the country, says Hudson, but his repository restricts itself to paid letters only. With so many free letters coming and going at any one time, "who would want to look them all up?" Hudson estimates that there are probably 3,000 to 5,000 subscription newsletters in existence, and of that number, his clearinghouse presently has about 2,500 subscription titles listed -- and that figure is constantly changing. "I distrust every one of my statistics," Hudson freely admits.
How do such letters come on the scene? "Where there's activity, there's motion, and where there's a trend, there's a newsletter," Hudson says, although he has yet to come across a Michael Jackson newsletter.
Below is a partial compilation of a variety of food-related subscription newsletters:
Basil Bits: Definitely hard-core stuff. Everything you've ever wanted to know about basil -- how to cook it, grow it, preserve it and craft it. $2 per copy, issued on a hit-and-miss basis now, although by 1985 it probably will be bimonthly with an annual rate. Fox Hill Farm, P.O. Box 7, Parma, Mich. 49269.
Bob Lape's Dining Guide: Dining guide for New York and its environs. Theme-oriented issues, including international cuisines, are accompanied by relevant wine charts. $27 for 12 monthly issues. P.O. Box 11011, Greenwich, Conn. 06830.
Cheesemakers' Journal: A forum for small-scale cheese producers. Each issue includes a feature on a personality in the cheese world, along with recipes, profiles of operations, business tips and information concerning new cheese products. Published every other month; $8 for a year's subscription. P.O. Box 85, Ashfield, Mass. 01330.
Chili Monthly: ". . . covers chili . . . and other necessary ingredients of the good life such as country music, memories, barbecue, beer joints, back roads, cookoffs, good books, good friends and good times." $16 per year. P.O. Box 189, Martindale, Tex. 78655.
Chocolate News: The die-hard's bible. Published every other month, six issues for $9.95, $15 abroad. P.O. Box 1745, FDR Station, New York, N.Y. 10150.
Coffee Connoisseur: A bimonthly newsletter about specialty coffee. Includes recipes, gift ideas, and profiles on people in the coffee industry. $17 subscription ($20 foreign) for six issues. P.O. Box 29948, Richmond, Va. 23229.
The Communicator: Primarily academic, this journal covers meetings and listings of related symposiums, funding possibilities and information on members. Published three times a year. $5. Council on Nutritional Anthropology, c/o Cosminsky, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, Rutgers University, Camden, N.J. 08102.
Contest News-Letter: A compilation of all major national contests and sweepstakes, including food and cooking competitions. Tips on how to win, profiles on successful winners. $12.95 for 12 monthly issues. P.O. Box 1059, Fernandina Beach, Fla. 32034.
Culinary Arts News: Features skill-improvement courses worldwide for food professionals and gourmets who travel. Quarterly, single copy $12. One year subscription $30. P.O. Box 153, Western Springs, Ill. 60558.
The Digest: An academically oriented journal presenting abstracts of research in food lore and foodways, as well as food-related book and film reviews, conference news, and course outlines of foodways classes. $5 for three issues. Department of Folklore and Folklife, Logan Hall 415CN, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa. 19104.
Fare Share: Monthly "down-home" newsletter featuring recipes shared by readers, tips on food preparation and food history tidbits. $1.50 per issue. 4709 Weyhill Dr., Arlington, Tex. 76013.
Flambe's at Home: A monthly gourmet letter devoted exclusively to tableside cookery. A beverage, main course and dessert recipe are included in each issue. $24 a year. Westpol, 533 Sutter, Suite 1616, San Francisco, Calif. 94102.
Flavors of Asia: Covers a wide range of regional cuisines -- Korean, Thai, Chinese, Japanese. A companion mail-order catalogue lists where to locate spices and cookware used in Asian cooking. $9.50 annual subscription includes six issues and the catalogue. AsianAttic Inc., 8 Briarwood Ter., Albany, N.Y. 12203.
The Food Enthusiast: The name says it all. Incorporates seasonal food themes with hints from the pros on preparation. Aimed at the creative cook. $29 per year for 12 issues or $3 for a sample copy. P.O. Box 205, Birmingham, Mich. 48012.
Food First: A quarterly newsletter containing information on one major international food issue. Conference news and a column on domestic and international food developments are also included. Institute contributors receive this letter gratis but interested subscribers may obtain an issue by sending a self-addressed, stamped, legal-size envelope to the Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1885 Mission St., San Francisco, Calif. 94103.
Food Sense: A quarterly publication "promoting good health through good eating while saving time and money." Includes consumer issues, low cost and low calorie recipes, fitness tips, hints on how to purchase food. Subscriptions are $4.50 per year. Sarah Byrd Publications, P.O. Box 7417, Silver Spring, Md. 20907.
Foodtalk: Sociological, anthropological and other cultural topics related to food. Quarterly, $10 annual subscription. P.O. Box 6453, San Francisco, Calif. 94101.
The Garlic Times: Features, festivals, recipes and trivia (even poems) on garlic. A $16 membership fee includes a copy of "The Book of Garlic," two issues of the newsletter, a garlic lover's bumper sticker and a membership card. 1635 Channing Way, Berkeley, Calif. 94703.
Gastronomie Today: Described as a "very unusual, illustrated, semi-promotional copy (related to culinary tours abroad)." Quarterly, $1.25 per issue. Cynthia's Cuisine: International Culinary Artists and Researchers, 1645 Lochridge Rd., Bloomfield Hills, Mich. 48013.
Gourmet News: Emphasizes Caribbean, African and Oriental cuisines. Includes recipes, nutrition information, entertaining tips. Quarterly, $4.50 per year or $8 for two years. Sample copy $1.25. P.O. Box 793, New York, N.Y. 10009.
The Hideaway Report: A privately published monthly dedicated to the discovery of peaceful vacation and executive retreats, and their food, around the world. Subscription rate $65 per year, $85 for overseas mail. Harper Associates Inc., P.O. Drawer 300, Fairfax Station, Va. 22039.
Italian Gourmet Society: What's new in Italian cuisine around the world. Published 12 times a year. $29.95 for one year's membership. 1390 Market St., Suite 908, San Francisco, Calif. 94102.
Kay's Menu Service: A monthly focusing on quick and nutritious menus for those wishing to minimalize dependence on highly processed or junk foods. Each month's issue includes a full month's menu for four, shopping list and recipes. Aimed at the working woman and two-career couples. For 12 issues, $10. The Bradfield Press, P.O. Box 1125, Springfield, Va. 22151.
Kitchen Times: Instruction and information emphasized in this letter of seasonal recipes, editorials and focus on people and places. Bimonthly, $36 a year. 185 Marlborough St., Boston, Mass. 02116.
Les Nouvelles "Gourmandes": Information on Ma Maison, other California restaurants, food events, travel and overseas cooking classes. Published 10 times annually by California's Ma Maison restaurant. $12 per subscription. 8368 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.
Living with Herbs: A monthly geared to gourmets with how-to's on cooking, growing and using herbs in a variety of ways. One recent issue included a column entitled "Really Living with Herbs," complete with information on how to embroider pillowcases and aprons with chives and mint. (Can sprig cleaning be far behind?) $14.50 annual subscription. 71 Little Fresh Pond Rd., Southampton, N.Y. 11968.
The Microwave Times: Bimonthly letter with lots of recipes. $6.95 annual subscription. P.O. Box 1271-A, Burnsville, Minn. 55337.
Mushroom: The Journal of Wild Mushrooming: Lots of helpful advice for fungi fans. Evaluations of mushroom guides, cooking information. Aimed at the amateur wild mushroomer. Quarterly journal for $12. P.O. Box 3156, University Station, Moscow, Idaho 83843.
National Women's Health Report: Today's health issues discussed in a monthly newsletter. $18 annually. P.O. Box 25307, Georgetown Station, Washington, D.C. 20007.
Natural Notes: Husband and wife team publish a monthly newsletter about healthy foods and simpler living. And if the couple's cover letter is any indication, no trees were destroyed to publish their magazine . . . $1 per issue. P.O. Box 299, Flint, Mich. 48501.
Nutrition Week: Food safety and nutrition legislation are featured in this newsletter geared to food service professionals and nutritionists. $45 for 50 issues. The Community Nutrition Institute, 2001 S St. NW, Suite 530, Washington, D.C. 20009.
Simple Cooking: In-depth treatment on several subjects; includes recipes. Quarterly, $12 a year. P.O. Box 371-Essex Station, Boston, Mass. 02112.
Sproutletter: For people "who want to eat live foods complete with enzymes," according to the founder. News on sprouts and sprouting products. Subscriptions for the bimonthly letter are $10 a year. P.O. Box 62, Ashland, Ore. 97520.
Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter: Current nutritional issues and sound advice presented in layman's terms. Monthly, $18 per year. Subscription Department, P.O. Box 2464, Boulder, Colo. 80321.
The Wine Advocate: News from the wine world. $25 per year for six issues or $45 for two years. 1002 Hillside View, Parkton, Md. 21120.
Wok Talk: Published monthly "for the interest and edification of Chinese food lovers." Includes helpful information on cooking techniques and a shopper's guide for selecting the market's best equipment and cookbooks. $16 subscription. 15 Barstow Rd., Suite 2100, Great Neck, N.Y. 11021-2212.
Zagat Restaurant Survey: At least one restaurant critic from a major New York newspaper touts this as a very useful source for his column. A guide to the Big Apple's dining establishments, food emporiums and wine shops. Ratings and comments. Published annually. While those participating in the survey get a free copy, Zagat announced that the 1985 issue is near completion and no more participants will be accepted. To order a copy ($5.95 for a 1984 edition, $7.95 for a 1985 edition) or to take part in the 1986 survey, send a self-addressed, stamped legal-size envelope to: Zagat Survey, 55 Central Park West, New York, N.Y. 10023.