Food books continually cross the desk of Russ Parsons, food editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. The author of How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table shares his top six picks for 2013 summer reading.
1. Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers' Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm by Forrest Pritchard
Pritchard is a farmers market meat grower in northern Virginia. He graduates from college, and is just trying to figure out what he wants to do. He actually becomes an artisan, and the book is about that learning process. He has some experience on the farm, but his parents only farmed part-time while his grandfather ran it. So he's kind of a city guy who goes back to the farm and tries to revivify it. The book is about him learning the artisanal way of farming as opposed to farming as it had been done on that farm for the last 100 years.
2. The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti
Paterniti's book is about this obscure cheese from Spain that he becomes absolutely obsessed with. He goes to Spain and meets the cheesemaker -- and he's this hugely charismatic guy -- and falls under his spell, but there's a darker backstory that he becomes gradually aware of. How much does he actually want to know about that? Sometimes it's the story that we love that we really want to know rather than the truth.
What's funny about Gaining Ground and The Telling Room is that they pair interestingly. They're both books about artisanship and about our craving for artisanship these days, but they come at it from two very, very different directions. Both of these guys are unemployed English majors, which may or may not be redundant.
This book is by my old friend Deborah Madison. I don't know how she does this. She's written so many books and so many recipes, and yet they all read fresh.
4. The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm by David Mas Masumoto, Marcy Masumoto and Nikiko Masumoto
This book is by the Masumoto family. David Mas Masumoto is a legendary peach farmer in the Central Valley of California who is actually also a legendary writer -- he's on the National Council of the Arts and he's written lots of books that are essays about the act of farming and the philosophy of farming. He and his wife, Marcy, and their daughter, Nikiko, have written their first cookbook. Now if you really appreciate these wonderful flavored peaches he's been growing, what are you going to do with them? It's everything from how to choose peaches to the difference between the varieties, and lots and lots of recipes, which is really cool.
This is a really terrific book on jam-making and preserving, which is one of those things that has become so popular lately. I remember 5 years ago having an editor tell me nobody makes jam except little old ladies. But now, of course, it's like everybody is doing it. This great new book is everything you want to know about preserving: canning, pickling, preserving, making jams and jellies.
6. Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
The recipes are basically Middle Eastern with Ottolenghi's spin on them; he's Israeli and his restaurant partner is Palestinian, so the food is based very much on warm-weather ingredients -- tomatoes, squashes, eggplants, peppers and things like that. But the thing that's really great about this book is that he takes what might seem familiar and just throws a twist on it. When you cook it, it's an act of exploration because you're doing things that you know, the ingredients are fairly familiar, the techniques are fairly familiar, and then boom, there's this very new and exciting result that really makes you want to cook more into it.
The best testament I can give to this book is that I think I've probably given it to seven or eight people, and recommended it to dozens more, and everyone that I have given it to says, "Oh my gosh, this is the most amazing book. I've already cooked seven or eight recipes from it. I can't stop cooking from it." I just love the book.