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Melissa's Great Book of Produce

Everything You Need to Know About Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
by Cathy Thomas

Reviewed by Rachel Levin

Melissa's Great Book of Produce

Melissa’s Great Book of Produce is to home cooks what the National Audubon Field Guide is to bird watchers.  Cathy Thomas’ book, written in concert with specialty purveyor Melissa’s World Variety Produce, catalogues fruits and vegetables of the world with notes on their natural habitat, color variations and season.  Some—like bananas, potatoes, cantaloupe, and onions—are as recognizable as common street pigeons.  Others—like magenta dragon fruit dotted with lime-green spines or crimson rambutan with their hair-like protrusions—are as exotic and multicolored as rainbow lorikeets.  As grocery stores and farmers markets bulge with new varietals, heirlooms and unusual produce from abroad, Melissa’s Great Book of Produce is a welcome guide. 

Beyond merely cataloguing produce, the book provides a context for purchasing and preparing these fruits and veggies.  Thomas vividly describes the textures and flavors to expect in each variety and offers simple serving suggestions, from soups and cocktails to pastas and salads, as well as some full-fledged recipes.  Take the cherimoya, for example, which Thomas describes as a kind of lizard-green pine cone.  She likens the creamy white flesh to custard with a blend of pineapple, papaya, vanilla and banana flavors—a perfect match for a tropical salad dressing or crème brûlée, for which she presents a recipe.  You’ll find eye-catching fruits such as Buddha’s hand citron, lychees and tamarillos and vegetables like candy cane beets, fiddlehead ferns and salicornia.  Yet, oddly, you won’t find entries for the more familiar apple, asparagus and arugula.  No matter.  Whip up a guava daiquiri, mango roast pork loin, spicy three-cabbage slaw and a passion fruit pavlova, and you’ll feel as satisfied as if you’d sighted the rarest of birds.

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