In follow-up to "Tender", his dedicated volume on vegetables, London-based food writer Nigel Slater turns to the fruit section of his garden in "Ripe". The beautifully photographed tome serves as a comprehensive primer on 23 types of fruit and a collection of more than 300 recipes, but most importantly, reads like an alphabetically organized love letter to each and every variety, from apples and apricots to gooseberries, damsons and elderflower.
Overseeing a 40-foot terrace garden off his London flat, Slater extolls his devotion to fruit, which despite their secondary role in the importance of his growing efforts, fill him with an unparalleled sense of joy and wonder season after season. "I always knew that if ever I found a space in which to grow a few knobbly vegetables of my own, some of it would be set aside for fruit," says Slater in an introduction that walks the reader through each row and past each bush and tree of his small city garden. "Their pleasures are brief, and yes, there is always a struggle to get there before the birds and the squirrels," he continues. "But it is hard to find a mulberry more exquisite than the one you have grown for yourself, a strawberry more sweet, or a fig more seductive."
Slater's prose will delight fellow gardeners and offer indispensable instructions for the uninitiated. You may be inspired to start growing yourself, or at the very least, find a new appreciation for those who provide us with such sweet bounty at the market each week. Each fruit's section comes prefaced with Slater's deeply personal and highly informative analysis. "Without heat," he says, "there is little point to the black currant. He goes on to pay homage to what he calls the "cook's fruit" with concise recipe for making jelly—a hobby he picked up much to his amusement.
Each fruit he outlines by their behavior in the garden and purpose in the kitchen, listing details on their many varieties and offering proper pairings among different herbs spices and other ingredients. Throughout the practical introductions Slater reiterates the pleasure he derives from fruit, likening a bag of cherries to "a bag of happiness" because "their appearance, in deepest summer, comes when life is often at its most untroubled."
Recipes are simple and thrilling. "When the oven has been on for a roast, I sometimes sneak in a dish of baked fruit," offers Slater, as an intro to a recipe for baked pears with marsala. From lamb with quinces to classic applesauce and gooseberry fool, dishes represent rustic delicacies from several different cultures while sticking to Slater's essential unfussy but still very passionate attitude toward his ingredients. Despite the collection's creative range, the author reassures us "you should find nothing to raise an eyebrow...no flights of fancy, no strawberry sauce with chicken to upset the family at suppertime."
All the sweetness of fruit shines through in their thorough explanation and simple imagery throughout this thick new book. "Ripe" drops 10 April 2012 and is currently available for pre-order through Ten Speed Press and Amazon.