Ripe by Nigel Slater

This lovely dream of a book has been keeping me company for the last few weeks.  Sitting in my yard in Austin, I imagine old country houses and rolling hills, hedges draped in berries and fruit trees trained to climb walls.  The reader is quickly transported, which is good, because every few minutes I’m called to look at some fresh wonder by one of my boys.  The delicacy of quince blossoms, blackberries that stain yogurt purple, the “gentle nature” of a pear, the “no-nonsense appeal” of an apple: all captivate Mr. Slater in their simple beauty.  If time and attention make something precious, the fruits Mr. Slater grows are more precious than gold.  It’s romantic, in the broader definition, and that is very appealing.  This is a cookbook for readers and poetry lovers, gardeners and cooks.  It’s a must-have reference guide to fruits, not because it is exhaustive in breadth but because each individual fruit has been so thoroughly and lovingly observed.  

Each of the 24 chapters begin with an overview of a fruit—some rhapsodizing over flavor and looks, and then Mr. Slater’s personal stories and the larger history of the fruit in Europe, along with observations about how and why and where to use this fruit.  And that is only the beginning, because we then move on to a section on the fruit in the garden, the fruit in the kitchen, and (sometimes very many) varieties of the fruit.  From there, a list of the fruit’s kindred spirits in the kitchen—for example, apples are paired with fennel, cinnamon, nutmeg, dark sugars, berries, blackberries, honey, maple syrup, brandy, cheese, nuts, butter, dried fruits, pork, and sage.  There follows an explanation of the nature of each relationship and how the two make each other shine (#couplegoals).  After all of that, there is still a random tidbits section, and then we move on to the recipes.   

Though I have the Americanized version, it is still thoroughly English, with many ingredients that are either not easily or not at all available here, including some of the fruits themselves. In this cookbook, this does not strike me as a flaw but rather an opportunity to let my mind wander to far away places.  I think that appreciation speaks to how much I view this as a book and not just a collection of recipes.  Certainly, in a more utilitarian and less literary cookbook I would probably find that bothersome. My advice is to think of the recipes where ingredients are hard to come by as inspiration.  Clocking in at 581 pages, there are still plenty of recipes that can be followed to a tee.  

I made: Cheese and apple puffs (p. 39), Apple rabbit (p. 41), Deeply appley apple crumble (p. 47), A cake of apples and zucchini (p. 59), Black grape focaccia (p. 310), poached pears with warm chocolate sauce (p. 391), A cake of pears, muscovado, and maple syrup (p. 392), Goat cheese and thyme scones to eat with pears (p. 400), Vanilla walnut sundae (p. 547), Fig and walnut cake (p. 548). 

Would make again: Cheese and apple puffs (p. 39), Apple rabbit (p. 41), Deeply appley apple crumble (p. 47), A cake of apples and zucchini (p. 59), Black grape focaccia (p. 310), Vanilla walnut sundae (p. 547),  Goat cheese and thyme scones to eat with pears (p. 400). 

Standout Star Recipe: Cheese and apple puffs (p. 39), for both ease and deliciousness.  

Quick answers to important questions: 

  • Is it necessary to spend a bunch of money for new equipment? No.  Everything is very simple.     
  • Are the ingredients expensive? There are recipes with ingredients like guinea fowl and pheasant and mincemeat that are not common here, and may be expensive and difficult to find.  You can nagivate this book inexpensively if you wish, though, and still make plenty of delicious things.     
  • Are the ingredients difficult to find?  Again, they can be.  It’s easier if you are flexible and think of this book as a guide and an inspiration for your cooking.       
  • Can I use ingredient substitutions?  Yes, mostly.  It may even be necessary sometimes. 
  • Are the recipes complicated? No, but sometimes they are a bit vague.  It’s better to have some basic knowledge of cooking and baking at the start.  
  • Can I feed kids from this book?  Yes.  Happily, depending on how much they like fresh and dried fruits.    
  • Is this book on my side, trying to help? Yes, but to me it seems secondary to what it’s really trying to do, which is express how to see and create beauty in a garden and/or kitchen.          
  • Is the text of the book helpful and/or interesting?  Yes. This book has a huge amount of useful and interesting information.  
  • Are recipes on one page or do I have to keep flipping back and forth while cooking? Most everything is on one page or even less.   Simplicity is valued in this book.   
  • Is this book beautiful and would it belong on a coffee table? Yes, throw it out there, this is a gorgeous, soulful cookbook.    
  • Did I learn and grow as a cook while using this book?  It is a creatively inspiring book.  The preparations used are usually simple, but the flavor combinations can be surprising.  The focus is on letting the ingredients shine.  
  • Are ingredients given in weight? Yes, mostly.    
  • Is there advice on how to make ahead/store/reheat food? Not much.  It seems mostly meant to be eaten right away.    
  • Can these recipes be adapted for different dietary needs?  Though not a vegetarian cookbook, there are plenty of recipes that fit the bill.  Vegans will need to already know how to adapt recipes to their needs.  There are a lot of gluten-free friendly recipes.  
  • Can kids help with these recipes? Yes!  There are many simple recipes that kids could help with.   
  • How delicious is the food?  Great recipes, delicious.  
  • Are the recipes healthful?  Can they fit in to a balanced diet?  Yes.   
  • Is there a set of values underpinning the book?  Yes, appreciating the beauty of the process of growing and cooking our food.  Perhaps seeing that as essential to good food.        
  • Good gift?  Yes, absolutely!  For dreamers, readers, cooks and bakers.  I highly recommend it for someone who already has some knowledge of their kitchen.        

TLDR: Ripe: A cook in the orchard is a wonderful cookbook.  The text is beautiful, the pictures gorgeous, the information invaluable.  It would be a great gift for either professional or home cooks and bakers.   

Goat cheese and thyme scones to eat with pears (p. 400)

Apple rabbit (p. 41)

A cake of apples and zucchini (p. 59)

A cake of pears, muscovado, and maple syrup

Find Ripe, published in the U.S. by Ten Speed Press, wherever you buy books, or order it from Amazon! If you greatly prefer savory preparations, I also highly recommend Tender: A cook and his vegetable patch, same idea but this time focused on vegetables rather than fruits. Enjoy!

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