on April 16, 2004
(...)One can get satisfaction from the fact that this means established writers like Ms. Meyers can put their old wine into new bottles and publish new titles with new twists and new wisdom. The format of this book, 'How to Peel a Peach' is a perfect fit for a recognized culinary authority. It collects into a single source all the facts, tips, opinions, and wisdom about food that you may get from a year's viewing the Food Network or a five-year subscription to 'Martha Stewart Living'. This is not the kind of material you will typically find in a book by Tom Colicchio or Mario Batali or Eric Rippert or Joel Robuchon. These authors will provide great insights into applying great artistry to superior ingredients. They may even give good information on what makes a great artichoke or a great tomato, but they will not tell you much about the difference between fresh chilies, dried chilies, and chili powder.
The primary strength of the book is precisely in it's pulling together between one pair of covers just about any information you may commonly want about fruits and vegetables and starches and fats and fish and chickens and so on... Almost all of the information is presented in a question and answer format, which has an appeal, but which has some drawbacks in a book that attains its greatest value as a reference. I suspect the format leads to inconsistent coverage of similar topics and misses on showing the similarities in cooking, for example, squid, octopus, and cuttlefish.
Another major strength of this book is that almost all the information in the book is top quality. I was truly impressed by the consistent quality of the advice from page to page and from subject to subject. I failed to find any general statement with which I would argue. There were some specifics on which I suspect the author may have not been careful enough to avoid short-term changes in the marketplace. On mustards, for example, she quite correctly gives the same opinion as a recent 'Cooks Illustrated' article, saying that Dijon mustard has a relatively short shelf life. A good mustard may hold its bite for maybe about three months. Like 'Cooks Illustrated' nine months ago, Ms. Meyers endorses the Maille brand of Dijon and discounts the American brand Gray Poupon. As luck would have it, in a recent article, 'Cooks Illustrated' revisited mustards and found that aging bottles of Maille could not compare to a fresh bottle of Gray Poupon. Culinary wisdom changes and my observation is that Ms. Meyers is up to date on almost every issue. On seasoning meat, the latest thinking is to do it before searing. Ms. Meyers endorses this.
Yet another strength of the book is that the author is clearly not relying entirely on her own opinion. For many questions, the author quotes recognized authorities such as Maida Heather and Shirley Corriher especially on baking issues on which Ms. Meyer honestly confesses to not be an authority. The reliance on experts extends to referring to their books for important recipes as when she refers us to Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey for recipes of garam masala.
One general argument I have with the book one I pick with every author who makes recommendations on things you should keep in your pantry. Buying any product with the expectation you will use it on some yet to be decided recipe is an invitation to waste. Ironically, my opinion on this is backed by none other than Madhur Jaffrey who answered the question on what to stock in the pantry by saying 'Nothing'. Her solution is to shop only for the recipes that appeal to you. Eventually, you are sure to build up a supply of things you really need. Another general weakness I find in this book is the recipes. They seem to have no connection to the Q and A, and their choice seems to have no pattern. There are also some rather serious copy editing errors as when the roasting temperature for a roast duck was not stated.
The value you find in this book will depend on how much you already know and your style of cooking.