In this frequently engaging collection of articles Ripe discusses many aspects of food, opening with an exploration of ripeness and why so many of us not only availed only of unripe, early picked and poorly stored fruit but are also unable to recognise good fruit. She moves on to artichokes, chickpeas via beef, and leaves barely a culinary arena, from seafood to rancidity, untouched. Each chapter concludes with a recipe or two, and the entries progress alphabetically rather than thematically.
This is a re-reading for me – I think Ripe Enough, first published in 1999, was the first book I read about food. Since then I’ve become acquainted with a number if food writers and enjoyed my forays into the genre, fuelling an interest in revisiting the beginning of my journey. Despite several, somewhat cursory, trolls through my boxes of books over the last couple of years, I haven’t found my copy so when I discovered that the library had it I was very pleased. I remembered the opening exposition, though no the recipes, and re-reading it was an interesting experience. Ripe writes of the Australian scene, so the produce, culture and regions she discusses are relevant and hold extra interest. The decade between publication and re-reading resulted in both differences in what she describes and contemporary situations, yet many things are not that different. I would have been interested, in her discussion about coffee (“Coffee Cherries: From Pits to Pots”), to see what she made of Starbucks opening here, and about Australia being the first location where stores of the chain closed.
Her basic thesis is worthy and well ahead of its time – buy locally, in season and when food is at its peak, consumers will pay more for better produce, the better educated consumers are about food (varieties of potatoes and their uses, the virtues of marbling in meat) the more demanding they’ll be about quality, great ingredients come from ecological and animal-friendly farming practices, best flavours (and often greater yields) come from older and rarer ‘heritage’ plants. I agree with all of that. But I found, wholly unexpectedly, that Ripe’s tone grated, the more so the further through I progressed. It wasn’t her (justifiable) distain of Anglocentric criticism of fusion cuisine or her (I imagine justified) dismissal on two occasions of famous foodie Keith Floyd’s accuracy and depth of knowledge. In fact I can’t quite put my finger on what, precisely, irritated me. I suspect it’s just that I built her writing up in the intervening years and have discovered that the book is adequate and unobjectionable, but not as absorbing as the best. - Alex