Wednesday, August 6, 2008
While I fully believe farm fresh, local, organic food is tastier, more nutritious, better for the world, and more nurturing for our bodies and souls, there exists a fact that might be considered a downside to turning away from conventional early picking and gassing to ripeness - some fresh produce doesn't last as long as it's supermarket cousin.
This makes sense when you consider what it takes to get a factory-farmed tomato to stay pretty and red in a pile in the produce section, weeks after being picked. A tomato bound for the big-box store is harvested while still green. In order to "force ripen" them, they are loaded into large "gas houses" and exposed to large quantities of ethylene gas - which, in its natural state, is produced by the fruit itself to facilitate ripening. Basically, the gas tricks the tomato into blushing red - but does nothing to mimic that fresh-off the vine juiciness and flavor. Gonna eat that rock hard Roma? Might as well be eating a green one.
The process is roughly the same for a lot of fruits and veggies - stone fruits like peaches and apricots are so juicy when ripe that they are picked weeks before they're ready. If you haven't had the chance to eat a peach from the farmers' market lately, you're in for a surprise - the peaches at the store could be considered "stone" fruits in more ways than one.
This "downside" should in fact be appreciated. From observing how local, fresh food lasts (or, at times, doesn't) we can gain an understanding about the natural process of ripening and increase our skepticism towards those tasteless supermarket finds. Of course, through all of this, the obvious fact is that fruit and veggies are best eaten right away.
But sometimes, Limbo has giant bags of local apricots for a dollar. And they aren't pretty. But they are local, plentiful, delicious, and a dollar. And so you find yourself buying FAR TOO MANY APRICOTS. The first few are ambrosial - sweet, juicy, melt-in-your mouth amazing - but then I realized that I'm stuck with a lot of ugly fruit that won't be getting much prettier.
The truth is, while rock hard fruit might stand the test of time and win a beauty contest, and can withstand countless "squeeze tests" in the story - the ugly fruit just plain tastes better. Cooks Illustrated recently featured a story about how to make your "hard, mealy super-market peaches" into a passable shortcake. Um, thanks anyway, but I'll stick with my ugly fruit.
So begins my attempts to bite my thumb at mass-market false-ripened fruits and make the most of the summer bounty. I'm talkin' jams, tarts, ice cream sauces, ICE CREAMS, and, yesterday, the best smoothie I've had in a while.
It might not have been the best choice to declare the birth of Bread Tuesday on the second hottest day of the summer. Going out and watering the garden in the 97 degree heat was a relief after standing over a 350 degree oven. Yeah, I know, not the best planning. But I had my productive pants on! You can't just postpone bread-making plans! So bake I did.
While the results were great, I needed to escape the kitchen. I looked over at the fruit bowl (which - for all the overflowing - might as well be the fruit counter top) and spied my bag of ugly fruit. Ah, poor little apricots, you are so tasty, but how will I use you up? Looking back toward the butcher block where my bread was rising, I see my blender peaking up over the big stainless-steel bowl, virtually screaming at me to make a smoothie.
Eager to blend up something cold and hightail it out of the baking inferno, I pitted about six of the apricots and a big peach that was hidden in the dollar bag - even uglier than the apricots - and threw them in the blender with some blueberries and a handful of mint. A few ice cubes and a minute of shrieking from the blender and there it was - a minty ugly fruit smoothie - my ticket to paradise.
Though the situation might have made me a bit biased - hot kitchens on hot days make anything cold seem godly - but this smoothie was AMAZING. Falling-apart-ripe fruit is meant for this kind of thing. I'm going to pit the rest of the apricots and freeze them so I don't need to use ice next time. Or maybe I'll make ice cream... or a tart... or jam... oh goodness, I think another trip to Limbo is in order... Need more ugly fruit!
This is a submission to A Southern Grace's Beat the Heat event. Check it out!