I am at something of a disadvantage here, because I like to refer to a book when I am writing about it, and I borrowed Russ Parson’s How to Pick a Peach from the library. I will, therefore, be going largely on memory.
Parsons is a journalist who has been covering the food beat for many, many years, and he is a fine writer and a thoughtful human being. The book is divided into seasons, and in each of the four sections he addresses fruits and vegetables that are actually in season during that part of the year, sometimes by the specific month. He explains the growth cycle and natural growing location of each type of produce, and how to pick, preserve and prepare good specimens; he also provides a “simple” preparation for most of the types of produce discussed as well as several more complicated recipes.
Between these food-specific chapters are valuable information about the history of “moving” food far from where it is originally produced, and how it is that we are now able to have certain foods available to us all year round even if they are not actually in season anywhere in the United States. I learned fascinating facts about diminishing species of corn, how new breeds of fruit are created (hint: the folks who begin such projects tend to be dead by the time they’re finished) and the lack of profitability in growing the perfect, delicious tiny strawberries we find in the wild.
My favorite thing about Parson’s book is that, unlike many strident and judgmental “localvore” books and articles, Parsons is really never judgmental about choosing to eat produce that is not local, or seasonal. He tells us what will taste best (if it still exists), and in a couple of cases, if I remember correctly, what tastes best may come from overseas. Since I live in a climate where there is no locally grown fruit and very few vegetables at this time of year, it is heartening to come away from a book like this not feeling that I am a slacker and a failure because I didn’t spend my summer “putting up” nature’s bounty. I learned to think carefully about what I buy, and about the effect it has on local growers and the environment, but I also learned that it will not (literally) be the end of the world if I buy imported bananas and citrus in the winter, as long as I’m moving in the general direction of eating locally whenever I can.
For some reason, I tended to enjoy Mr. Parson’s “simple preparations” more than his more involved recipes. I’m not sure why that was, but I think the recipes may have involved ingredients or preparations that were too sophisticated for my little family. I heartily recommend this book, and that recommendation is supported by hearing Mr. Parson’s from time to time on “The Splendid Table” on American Public Radio. He sounds, and writes, like a kind, smart ally in an increasingly complicated world of food ethics.