by Russ Parsons
Houghton Mifflin, 432 pp., $27
Russ Parsons' new title is a fascinating combination of agricultural history, fruit and vegetable buying guide, cookbook, and discourse on the marketing of produce and the impact of agribusiness on taste. It is the perfect summer reading: a book you can read in bits if so inclined, but one you will refer to constantly in the future, especially when cruising the farmers' market.
Parsons leads off with the nut of the matter: the ravages of distance and time on traditional produce and the steps agribusiness has taken to counteract those ravages (transportation, refrigeration, irrigation, the growth of supermarkets, selective breeding). Today's shoppers demand a full, out-of-season produce section in their local grocery, and the sacrifice for this bounty is taste.
Ultimately, writes Parsons, "good cooking starts with good shopping," and that is the purpose of this book: to arm readers with knowledge of how to choose, store, and prepare their produce. He begins with the crops of spring and progresses through the seasons, cataloging some 48 different fruits and vegetables in all.
With each we get the history of the crop, where and how it's grown and harvested, how it's marketed and how to select the best, how to store it for a short length of time, how to prep and cook the item (with many odd little tidbits of information included, like why cucumbers make you burp). Valuable tables are integrated: fruits that continue to ripen after picking and the science involved in that process, another on which items to refrigerate and which to leave at room temperature.
Parsons includes some 100 concise, simple, and very tempting recipes for the crops involved, so even after you know how to choose the best, you have recipes that put that superior product into delicious focus. Parsons' How to Pick a Peach should be in every kitchen, centered squarely between the stove and the refrigerator shopping list.
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