Book Review

Chez Panisse Fruit

by Alice Waters and the Cooks of Chez Panisse in collaboration with Alan Tangren and Fritz Strieff

Harper-Collins Publishers, Inc, New York. Published 2002. 326 pages. Hardcover. $34.95.
Buy this book now from Amazon.com
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Donna Buono (1/2004)

Many subtropical fruit growers often find themselves awash in beautiful, ripe, not-so-very storable fruit. What’s to be done with 300 pounds of ‘Jim White’ loquats, anyway? Having exhausted creative uses for nine grocery bags full of passionfruit, don’t expect much help from Joy of Cooking. And after squeezing and freezing a freezer full of citrus juice, then what?

To answer those questions, here’s a hefty tome dedicated to “the celebration of fruit.” Forget about apple pie and blueberry muffins. Chez Panisse Fruit, by Alice Waters, is a collection of top-notch restaurant-tested recipes that forge beyond the commonplace for any fruit connoisseur. The book has its roots in Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, among the most celebrated gourmet restaurants in this country (Berkeley is in the San Francisco area. —Ed.). As the jacket cover announces, “In 2001 Chez Panisse was named the number one restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine..." The author-chef focuses primarily on California fruit; a valuable help to many backyard growers and specialty fruit lovers who find themselves inundated with such uncommon or common fruit as passion-fruit, loquats, plantains, ollalieberries, cape gooseberries, citrons, mandarins, pummelos, huckleberries, kiwifruit, kumquats, mangos, mulberries, European and Asian pears, Meyer lemons, persimmons, pomegranates, figs, bananas, grapes, quinces, apples and more.

Although this is a cookbook, any fruit lover might find the author’s historical research and trivia tidbits on each individual fruit ingredient interesting reads, and may also enjoy Patricia Curtan's appealing and colorful ilustrations. Organic growers will be delighted with Chef Waters’ selection recommendations for much of the fruit in her book. For instance, about pomegranates she writes, “Choose organically grown fruit that s heavy for its size; it will have more seeds and less membrane.” For quinces: “Choose fragrant, organically grown quinces that have bright yellow or golden skin with few traces of green. The degree of fuzziness is a varietal characteristic, but riper fruit tends to be less fuzzy.” For rhubarb: “Be sure to choose stalks that are firm and turgid [a word not found in the ordinary cookbook] with bright, glossy skin. Pass over those that are very thick or very thin; they may be tough and stringy.” And of loquats: “ Look for organically grown fruit that is well-colored and slightly soft. It should have a fragrance that hints of pineapple or banana.”

Waters does an excellent job of answering the question, “What’s the difference between a mandarin and a tangerine?” She then follows this 3-page essay with a recipe for Crepes Suzette with Pixie Tangerine Sherbet. What fun!

Also there’s an appetizing chapter on oranges, dividing them into blood oranges, navels, juice oranges and sour oranges. She notes that thirty years ago her restaurant imported Sicilian blood oranges, now available domestically. Her orange recipes include Grilled Duck Breast with Seville Orange Sauce, Candied Orange Peel Dipped in Chocolate, Blood Orange Sponge Cake Tart, and Blood Orange Tartlets with Caramel.

In a section on pomegranates Waters notes that this fruit has been in the human diet longer than recorded history. She gives careful recommendations for processing this messy, staining fruit and offers a handful of tempting recipes such as Rocket Salad with Pomegranates and Toasted Hazelnuts, and Pomegranate Granita. I believe this is the syrup many may remember as a kid. It’s the critical ingredient for making Shirley Temples, although here she suggests using it over tangerine sherbert or as an attractive dessert topping.

Many who grow Persian limes will question Waters’ suggestion to purchase Persian or Bearss limes in their green state. As commercial growers of Bearss limes, we see a discerning market for the superior, ripe Bearss among Los Angeles chefs and shoppers at farmers markets. In her defense, not having a direct relationship with a grower makes it tough to buy ripe Persian limes because California packing houses want them delivered hard and green. Still, since she claims to be a fruit connoiseur, it was disappointing she recommends the green stage.

That one issue aside, this is an inspiring book for those of us who love fruit, and have exhausted the typical Joy of Cooking offerings. Get out your mixing bowls and invite some friends!

Donna Buono and her husband, Frank, own and operate a subtropical fruit and macadamia nut farm in Rainbow, Calif. Donna can be reached at [email protected]


© Copyright 2004, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Questions or comments? Contact us.