The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (with recipes) (Hardcover)

The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (with recipes) Cover Image
Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now


"[A] glorious mash-up of memoir, love note, and cookbook. . . Every sentence is as sensuous as the first bite into a cold, juicy plum." —Hillary Kelly, Vulture

"[A] dazzling, thorny new essay collection." -- Samin Nosrat, The New York Times

Inspired by twenty-six fruits, the essayist, poet, and pie lady Kate Lebo expertly blends natural, culinary, medical, and personal history.

A is for Aronia, berry member of the apple family, clothes-stainer, superfruit with reputed healing power. D is for Durian, endowed with a dramatic rind and a shifty odor—peaches, old garlic. M is for Medlar, name-checked by Shakespeare for its crude shape, beloved by gardeners for its flowers. Q is for Quince, which, fresh, gives off the scent of "roses and citrus and rich women's perfume" but if eaten raw is so astringent it wicks the juice from one’s mouth.

In this work of unique invention, these and other difficult fruits serve as the central ingredients of twenty-six lyrical essays (and recipes!) that range from deeply personal to botanical, from culinary to medical, from humorous to philosophical. The entries are associative, often poetic, taking unexpected turns and giving sideways insights into life, relationships, self-care, modern medicine, and more. What if the primary way you show love is to bake, but your partner suffers from celiac disease? Why leave in the pits for Willa Cather's Plum Jam? How can we rely on bodies as fragile as the fruits that nourish them?

Lebo's unquenchable curiosity leads us to intimate, sensuous, enlightening contemplations. The Book of Difficult Fruit is the very best of food writing: graceful, surprising, and ecstatic.

Includes black and white illustrations

About the Author

Kate Lebo is the author of the cookbook Pie School and the poetry chapbook Seven Prayers to Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and coeditor with Samuel Ligon of Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. Her essay about listening through hearing loss, “The Loudproof Room,” originally published in New England Review, was anthologized in Best American Essays 2015. She lives in Spokane, Washington, where she is an apprenticed cheesemaker to Lora Lea Misterly of Quillisascut Farm.

Praise For…

A Must-Read of 2021: The Helm

"[A] dazzling, thorny new essay collection"
—Samin Nosrat, The New York Times

"[A] glorious mash-up of memoir, love note, and cookbook. . . Every sentence is as sensuous as the first bite into a cold, juicy plum."
—Hillary Kelly, Vulture

"Delightfully unexpected.... Eloquent, well-researched, and thoughtfully conceived and organized, this genre-defying book will appeal to foodies as well as those who appreciate both fine writing and the pleasures of domestic arts and crafts. A one-of-a-kind reading experience."
Kirkus Reviews, starred

"Witty.... Unusual and piquant, this... will hit the spot with readers hungry for something a little different." —Publishers Weekly, starred

"A glorious blend of cookbook, memoir, and love notes."
The Helm

“Kate Lebo has written a thorny and twisty memoir disguised as a compendium of problematic fruits (and grains, and stems, and seeds). She doesn’t so much describe as confront her subjects: their poisonous pits, treacherous thorns, offensive odors, and invasive roots. But her buckets of foraged berries, her tart jams, and her bright and potent cordials live in the real world alongside troubled families, rampant wildfires, and the prickly terror of a newfound tumor. Kate Lebo is the best kind of poet-naturalist: her writing is savage and lyrical and scientific all at once. The Book of Difficult Fruit is feral and fierce—and I never thought I’d say that about a book on fruit.”
—Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks

“I loved this sage and sensuous book, and was enraptured by its curious tour through a Wunderkammer of plants, history, and personal narrative. Kate Lebo’s introspection and intelligence gleam on every page as she looks inward and outward through these colorful lenses. Her essays are ripe with illumination, enchantment, and a dash of the haunted.” —Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood

“With rich, puckery prose, Kate Lebo takes us on an engaging journey into her culinary world and offers surprisingly complex stories of neglected fruits that need a little more coaxing than your average blueberry. Here, too, are uncommon recipes for treats like faceclock coffee, gooseberry cheese, juniper bitters, and thimbleberry kvass. And Lebo even generously includes the Osage orange. Its best use? Ha! Read this book and find out.”
—Erik Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile

“A beautiful, fascinating read full of surprises—a real pleasure.” – Claudia Roden, author of Arabesque:A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon and The Book of Jewish Food

“Wow, I love this book. Utterly original, expertly crafted, tangy and tart and true, Kate Lebo’s The Book of Difficult Fruit is a nonfiction masterpiece. Lebo serves up the best of food writing, lyric essay, and carefully researched recipes—including durian lip balm and faceclock (dandelion) coffee—and the result is a book that celebrates not only the difficult fruits of field and forest but also of the human variety, the challenges and relationships that engross and define us. This is a book to devour, to salivate over, to gift.” —Sharma Shields, author of The Cassandra

“This beautifully crafted abecedarian of fruit braids the author’s curiosity and culinary acumen with the shadows from her personal history. She essays us through the role these problematic fruit have played historically in misogyny and injustice, and instructs us in how they might help us heal. In other words, it’s a book that’s about absolutely everything, viewed through a pectin tinted lens (recipes included!) and is sure to cheer you up in these times when most of what is good comes out of our own kitchens.”
—Pam Houston, author of Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country

The Book of Difficult Fruit is a beautiful meditation on how we measure our lives by the foods we eat.”
—Bich Minh Nguyen, author of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

“You will learn far more about the world of fruit reading this book than you thought humanly possible. But you will also learn how thrilling it can be to cook with the difficult ingredients any honest life serves up: anxiety, illness, lost love, even death. Kate Lebo writes with elegance and wit and exquisite precision about everything under the sun. She makes the most unlikely recipes sound truly yummy. And, along the way, she offers readers the ultimate literary fruit: the tender self, laid bare. I devoured this one in a single sitting.”
—Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America

“Even though I’ve never managed to keep any plant alive or followed a recipe without accidentally setting my stove on fire, I loved reading this book. That’s because, in The Book of Difficult Fruit, Kate Lebo uses food and botany as a launch pad for other conversations: about history and community, ritual and secrets, science and self. There’s a new fact, anecdote, or heartrending detail on every page of this wild huckleberry of a book, and I savored each one like the fine fruits that masquerade as Lebo’s primary subject.”
—Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses

The Book of Difficult Fruit is a bundle of delight, part memoir, part cookbook, all goodness. Reading it, you want Kate Lebo to be your new best friend. Failing that, to send you pie.” – Judith Flanders, author of A Place for Everything

“A gorgeous mixture of food writing, recipes and personal essay which innovates with form in the best way.” —Rebecca Tamás, author of Witch and Strangers

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374110321
ISBN-10: 0374110328
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: April 6th, 2021
Pages: 416
Language: English