Book Review: 'The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds, and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot,' by Chip Brantley

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Sunday, August 9, 2009


Good Breeding, Bad Seeds, and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluo

By Chip Brantley

Bloomsbury. 227 pp. $25

"I love plums," a woman tells Chip Brantley toward the end of "The Perfect Fruit," "but I never buy them at the store!" In this entertaining account of a growing season in California's San Joaquin Valley, Brantley explains why supermarket shoppers will pass by a pyramid of ripe, juicy plums, peaches and nectarines (PPNs, as they are called) in favor of flavorless Red Delicious apples.

Interviewing PPN farmers and distributors in their fields and packing sheds, Brantley portrays an unruly industry that fights consumer apathy by breeding more and more flavorful fruit -- but can't find a way to convince the consumer to buy it. If Brantley occasionally gets too wrapped up in long, tedious fruit genealogies, he makes up for it in his descriptions of the otherworldly flavors of fruits he's tasting in the orchards -- including one pluot (a plum-apricot blend) that's so perfect it's served "uncut, uncooked, undoctored" as the final course at Alice Waters's Chez Panisse.

-- Dan Kois

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