Fruit, glorious fruit, now is your time. The farmers' market doesn't come alive until the strawberries and cherries show up, and now with stone fruit season in full, chin-dripping swing, we have months of glory ahead. Perfect timing, then, for Plum Gorgeous, by Romney Steele, subtitled Recipes and Memories from the Orchard.
These recipes are as much inspirations as instructions, of the why-didn't-I-think-of-that variety. Once you read a description like Strawberry, Nasturium, and Cucumber Salad, Heirloom Tomatoes and Peaches with Burrata, or Honey-Baked Figs with Lavender and Wine, you almost don't need to bother with the cups and teaspoons; the idea is enough. Which is how the generous, bohemian-spirited Steele wants you to cook, anyway. Get the adorable but steely-hearted Miette bakery cookbook for your Louboutin-wearing, alpha-domme gal-pal, the one with the pink KitchenAid mixer, unchippable nails and spotless counters. Plum Gorgeous is a little more messy, much more colorful and a lot more forgiving. Starting with great fruit, it would be pretty hard to screw up any of these unfussy, casually delicious dishes, both sweet and savory, all seasoned with a dash of whimsy. The chapters follow the fruit of California's seasons: winter's citrus, spring's berries, the stone fruits of summer and the figs, apples, quinces, grapes, and pears of autumn.
Strawberry, Nasturtium, and Cucumber Salad. Photo: Sara Remington
Leafing through the book, it’s impossible not to be charmed at first sight. Read it cover to cover, though, from chirpy, service-y headnotes to poetic musings, and you might see how the whole thing risks falling into the sugar-coated, envy-making genre I'd call how nice for you. In her previous book, My Nepenthe, Steele told the story of her grandparents, the founders of Big Sur's fabled restaurant Nepenthe, and her family's involvement with the place through the decades. She alluded, gracefully and with the lightest of touches, to the challenges and complications of combining business, family, and the coastal counterculturalism of the 60s and 70s. Here, though, there's almost nothing but sweetness. Not every cookbook needs to be a memoir, especially not one whose ostensible purpose is simply fruit and fun. But without revealing a real story, a backbone of truth, writing that's aiming for a romantic, color-drenched poetry of the senses can end up reading like advertising copy, breathless and aspirational.