What's Fresh, Anyway?

Jerry Baldwin's post this morning reminds me that the word "fresh" itself is on its way to becoming as devalued and meaningless as "natural" was in the days of organic, when anyone could define it any way they wanted and everyone's standards differed.

Jerry's definition itself is different from other people's. He's exacting. He's earned it. Yet I don't think he goes as far as the home-roasting movement, which insists that coffee isn't worth drinking if you haven't roasted the beans yourself--a messy process that, I decided when writing The Joy of Coffee, was best left to the pros, with plenty of fans and brooms to collect the papery chaff that files everywhere when you roast beans (on surfaces you didn't know you had, and might not discover for months).

Still, it's subjective. Experts I interviewed said beans were best from one to three days out of the roaster. Jerry thinks fresh is right out of the roaster. I throw out coffee beyond ten days out.

And that's just coffee--something that's easy to smell and taste, and won't make you ill if it's old, just feeling that, as Jerry says, some sort of crime has been committed. For other foods the subject is still subjective--but trickier and sometimes dangerous.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.

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