Kate Lebo’s Tough Fruits Book invites readers to make their own discoveries
The 26 lyrical essays in this exceptional collection of lesser-known or forgotten fruits, one for each letter, explore the culinary, cosmetic, cultural, natural, medicinal and often deeply personal history of the author.
Kate Lebo skillfully weaves them all together, making for a brilliant, richly layered, and absolutely delicious book. Her writing – breathtakingly beautiful, courageous and complex – sparkles and lingers. His ideas and descriptions of fruits and their flavors, family secrets, lost loves and home tempt and tempt long after the last chapter. There is a lot to digest.
She notes, “Each fruit in this book is difficult in its own way. Some are impossible to domesticate or difficult to prepare. Some can be medicine or poison, depending on the size of the dose. Some are an acquired taste; some cannot even be acquired. … Imagine a blackberry heather, off-putting and sweet, and follow me.
A is for the chokeberry, a sourest berry. B is for blackberry, both native, trailing and invasive brambles. C, cherries. D, durian. There is also death. And dandelions. Humor, heartache and blueberries – all “struggle and sweetness”. Italian plums, pain and intrigue.
“Delight,” she writes, in her chapter on the inedible Osage orange, “is not a story. Appetite is not a story. Anxiety isn’t a story either. If I wrote an encyclopedia, the facts would be history. But that’s not what I’m writing.
The book combines stories with recipes often accompanied by their own stories, almost a book within a book, activities to try, challenges to overcome as she did. “Essentially,” she writes, “these recipes are invitations. Try this at home. “
She connects the recipes for dishes and desserts with instructions on the things you should not eat; durian lip balm, yuzu bath and body oil and vanilla whipped body cream are offered alongside a vanilla bean cake with vanilla buttercream, gooseberry and gooseberry iced fool elderflower and lingonberry pie.
Lebo is the author of “A Commonplace Book of Pie” (Chin Music Press, 2013) and “Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter” (Sasquatch Books, 2014), and co-editor with her husband Sam Ligon from the anthology “Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze” (Sasquatch Books, 2017). She also teaches pie-making workshops as part of the Washington Center for Cultural Traditions’ Art Heritage Learning Program and is an apprentice cheese maker with Lora Lea Misterly of Quillisascut Farm.
Lebo finished writing this collection, which the New York Times described as “dazzling,” while working part-time as the HEALWA Outreach Coordinator for Eastern Washington based at WSU Health Sciences Spokane. In the book, she references Indigenous and pop culture, literature and places in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the works of other food writers. Sharp, poetic, enchanting and full of precise language, insight and wit, “Difficult Fruit” is as well researched and recipe tested as it is intimate – contemporary culinary writing at its best.