Your Guide to Reading Between the Tines

Review: How to Pick a Peach by Russ Parsons

On most of my flight from Arizona to Pennsylvania and back last week, I had my nose buried in Russ Parson’s book How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table.  It’s one of those books I bought and then left sitting on the shelf for months while I went around, you know, living my life.  Once I’d cracked the spine, I couldn’t help what I’d been busy doing that was so important that I’d left it untouched for so long.  This book is, in a word, wonderful.  Parsons, a food and wine columnist for the LA Times, is more than a foodie–he’s a food geek.  Not only does he clearly love food, but he knows an immense amount about it.  How to Pick a Peach is a rich source of information, a straightforward type of poetry about food, and an intriguing collection of recipes.

You can see Parsons talk about his book in the video below.

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Parsons begins How to Pick a Peach with an introduction where he lays all his cards on the table.  Mostly, his book is advocating local foods, in season, grown in healthy soils.  The reason, however, is not political correctness.  It’s just that Parsons loves him some good eats.  The man is a hedonist, and he usually gets the most bang from fresh, local foods with terroir.

From there, the book is divided four sections: spring, summer, fall, and winter.  He tells the story of forty-three different fruits and vegetables (including tubers and bulbs), interspersed with essays on trends and challenges in farming, the stories of the development of new varieties of produce, storage and cooking techniques, and a plethora of other tidbits.  Each featured fruit or vegetable begins with a description, then the book moves into four subtopics: “Where They’re Grown,” “How to Choose,” “How to Store,” “How to Prepare,” and “One Simple Dish.”  Then, once he’s got you salivating, he gives you a few more recipes in varying degrees of elaborateness to tempt you.

Never has airplane food looked quite so pitiful.  And that’s saying something.

This book is a wonderful resource for anyone who loves food or farmers’ markets.  It’s a great gift for someone who enjoys the stories behind an amazing piece of fruit.  It’s also a relief for anyone who has been waiting for a book that acknowledges just how big a role good farmers play in our kitchens.  Finally, it’s a great read.  Parsons weaves accessible language, facts, captivating descriptions, and personal anecdote into prose that entices the reader along while covering a substantial amount of ground and introducing a lot of hard data.  I challenge anyone to read this book and walk away without having learned something new.

You can read an excerpt of How to Pick a Peach on NPR’s website, as well as listen to Terry Gross’ interview with Russ Parsons.

Guten Apetit!

2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Caitlin D. November 11th, 2008 8:48 am

    Hi! Just thought I’d delurk – Brandon suggested that I check out your website since I’ve been posting on facebook my tirades concerning industrial agriculture. :)

    I haven’t read this book yet – I’ll have to add it to my list. My personal favorite on the subject is still The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, but I am slowly beginning to appreciate local food for its taste as well as its political statement. Can’t wait to read this one!

  2. Laurel November 11th, 2008 10:14 am

    Tirades against unsustainable food practices = good! This book was definitely a good read. I picked up Parson’s earlier book, How to Read a French Fry, from the library yesterday, and I hope to give that a spin as well. I agree, though–Omnivore’s Dilemma by Pollan is my favorite. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation is also a great book for anyone wanting more information about how food is produced. The movie was, unfortunately, excruciating, but the book was excellent: great research, really accessible, excellent scope. Lots to say about the fast food industry, but also about meat and slaughterhouses, and about how the fast food industry impacted farming.

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