Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Review: How to Pick a Peach

I grew up eating fruits and vegetables from our family gardens or from a local farmer's market. Frankly, it spoiled me.  My palate knows what a vegetable should taste like and knows how good freshly picked fruit can be.  Because of that lucky experience, I've never really been satisfied with produce from the grocery store. Russ Parson's How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor From Farm to Table helps me understand why.

Parsons, food editor for the LA Times, explains the reasoning behind buying produce locally and in-season.  He details the conflict between growing produce for sturdiness in shipping instead of flavor, and it is clear what we are missing in the grocery stores.  Within commercial agriculture the author writes, "there are significant rewards for growing more fruit, but there are precious few for growing better fruit."  Farmers who have the talent to grow flavorful produce and put in the effort to keep them that way, are almost forced to go outside the normal supply chain, usually farmers' markets to sell directly to the consumer.

The book doesn't include every single fruit or vegetable, but it hits on good number of them.  Organized by season, the book includes an interesting short history on each item and describes various farming trends.  I was intrigued that several examples of marketplace success of imported fruit altered how our domestic farmers grew some types of produce, especially tomatoes and apples.  There is still hope for folks who can't buy directly from the farmer.

Parsons helps arm his readers with some basic information about how to choose produce, how to store them once they are home, and then shares suggestions on basic preparation. I appreciated understanding the science behind how certain growing,  storing, and cooking methods contribute to the flavor and texture of my food.

If you start with good ingredients you can finish with great tasting food.  This book was fun to read and will serve me well as a useful reference.  I'm ready to hit the farmers' markets and pick-your-own farms, but I'm also willing to start telling grocery produce managers what I want to see.  I hope you'll join me.

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