I have one thing in my kitchen that I value above all others. More than my Le Creuset dutch oven. More than my OXO can opener. More than my micro-plane grater. Even more than my Bakelite silverware and my vintage green glass water jug, just like the one Mom used to have. What on earth, you ask, could be more valuable than all of these put together? A little book called How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table, by Russ Parsons (food and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times). Why is it so valuable? Because it's full of all the things your mother should have taught you, but didn't.

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of a pile of pineapples or a mound of melons, with nary a clue how to tell which one would be the tastiest? Here's a hint my sister learned the hard way: green does not equal good when it comes to pineapple. Do you get your produce home, then find yourself wondering how on earth to store it? Should it be chilled or at room temperature? Plastic bag or paper sack? In light or dark? Have you ever had it go bad before you managed to dig through all your various cookbooks or do a search online for suggestions on how to prepare it? If you had this one tiny book at your fingertips everyday, as I do, none of this would ever happen to you again.

This would be a very good book if all it did was list the various fruits and vegetables, tell you how to pick the tasty ones, and how to store them once you get them home. What makes it a great book is that Russ Parsons is also a fine writer and wonderful storyteller. He starts by giving you some background on how we lost these skills in the first place, then he talks a bit about modern day plant designers - those factories in the field - before getting down to the nitty gritty parts. The rest of the book is divided into seasons, with several pages devoted to each fruit or vegetable that is at its best during that particular season.

Summer starts with corn, and the section on corn begins with "In corn as in life, be careful what you wish for." It goes on to talk about how plant breeders worked to overcome the problem of corn losing its sweetness before it could reach consumers in another state. The end result of their years of tinkering is corn that stays sweet, for sure. It just doesn't really taste like corn anymore, and its kernels are now crunchy, rather than creamy. Once you've learned the stories behind the veggies, you find out where they're grown, how to choose them, how to store them, how to prepare them (for corn, that's shucking, removing silks, cutting the corn from the cob, etc.), and you get instructions for one simple dish, of the sort that you could easily prepare on a weeknight, without even looking at the recipe after the first time or two. In this case, it was how to grill the corn. But wait, there's more! He then gives you several more recipes, of the sort you might want to prepare when you have a bit more time, maybe even serve to guests, like fresh corn blini with crema fresca, grilled corn and arugula salad, or shrimp and sweet corn "risotto."

In addition to similar sections about each of the other summer fruits and veggies, there are a couple of pages about which things should never be refrigerated, which should be refrigerated but briefly (no more than 3 days), and which should be refrigerated only after they are fully ripened. There is also a page about making flavored syrups, with suggestions for which herbs or spices go best with which fruit combinations. The section concludes with an essay on Growers and Global Competition: Reinventing the Tomato, and then, it's on to fall!

Won't you give it a gander? It's been out for two or three years now, so you could probably nab a used copy for a decent price. I promise you, the book jacket wasn't lying when it said "As fun to read as it is essential, How to Pick a Peach is guaranteed to help you put better food on your table."

P.S. Many thanks to for the above image.
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Reviewed by juragan asem
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Rating : 4.5