It’s no secret in the farming community that a lot of what they produce never sees the inside of a human digestive tract. Why? Because it’s ugly (or undersized, scarred, has a bruise, or is just on the wrong side of ripe). As consumers, we want our produce to be both beautiful and tasty. And as organic peach farmer Nori Naylor points out, this attitude results in a lot of waste before we even leave the market. Even worse when consumers demand heirloom varieties and then refuse to buy them because they’re not as pretty!
I’d love to say that I slap on a blindfold and choose my peaches democratically, but the truth is that I’m that annoying person standing in front of the peaches who spends ten minutes looking for the perfect peach: round, beautifully blushed, fragrant, and practically glowing with its own inner light.
Food waste is a tremendous misuse of resources and how we choose our food — as well as whether we eat it once it comes home with us — makes a difference. Some of it is out of our hands (e.g. bird or insect-damaged fruit doesn’t meet safety standards), but some of it isn’t. Now that I think about it, most of what I love to do with fruit doesn’t require it to be beautiful. Here are some of my favorite ways to use ugly fruit. What about you?
(And the inevitable caveat: not all of these ideas are low energy, but they’re still more energy and water efficient than throwing it away. Probably.)
Heirloom tomatoes are pretty gnarly looking compared to the perfectly uniform beefsteaks at the supermarket. Even if the shape doesn’t put you off, the splits might. Here’s a recipe from Jan at Slow Money Farm for salsa that’s awesome when you make it with ripe heirloom tomatoes (no matter how ugly).
about 1 lb of ripe tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 oz green chilies, chopped (or another hot pepper)
1/3 c chopped red bell pepper
1/3 c chopped yellow bell pepper
1/2 c chopped green bell pepper
2 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
Combine all, stirring thoroughly to mix. Can be done in a food processor and adjusted to be thinner / thicker as desired. Thanks, Jan!
2. Fruit leather
Paying .75 cents each for these highly plastic-wrapped bits of dried fruit is ridiculous. When I was growing up (waaaay back when), we made fruit leather in big cookie-sheet-sized rectangles. We might not have saved any resources if we individually wrapped them for later — but that issue never came up. We ate it all right then and there. Here’s a basic fruit leather recipe. I remember that the stuff with raspberries and apples was especially good.
3. Applesauce (or other fruit sauces).
Here’s how I make applesauce. (I’m an imprecise cook. Sorry.)
- Peel apples, cut roughly into fourths around the core.
- Put as many as I have (at least 6) or will fit in my big 4 quart pot.
- Add a little water to the bottom of the pot (dunno, 1/2 cup?)
- Add a TB or two of sugar and a hefty dash of cinnamon
- Simmer for about 30 minutes on medium with the lid on
- Mash, and adjust sugar if necessary.
Need more precise directions? Here’s a basic applesauce recipe. I have it on the authority of a local heirloom apple grower that mixing apple varieties produces a richer, more complex apple flavor. (Read: whatever’s left in the produce drawer.) Applesauce can substitute for oil in some baked goods if you’re watching your weight; just store in the freezer.
4. Fruit crisp
I make a kicky, zippy plum crisp every year when we’re inundated with plums from my mother’s tree. However, most stone fruits (and berries) make great crisps. Peach and strawberry, blackberry and apple…there are lots of possibilities here. You almost don’t need a recipe to make crisp, but I particularly like this one (I omit the bottom crust, which makes it both easier and healthier.)
5. Jams / conserves / jellies
I haven’t gotten into home canning yet. That’s why this section is blank. I’ve been told it’s fun.
Another obvious one. I tend to put in whatever fruit that needs using up with a splash of orange juice, sometimes some frozen fruit to round things out. It always ends up tasting fine. Then again, I avoid putting in vegetables. I can’t bring myself to drink anything dark green. (My lukewarm attitude towards kale and wheatgrass: yet another way in which I fail as a greenie.)
7. Fruity ice cream / sorbet
My mother recently gave me a secondhand Donvier ice cream maker that had sat in her cupboard, unloved, for many years. Iffy as I was about yet another single-function kitchen gadget, I tried it and fell in love. Regular ice cream is too heavy and too sweet for me, but I’ve been mixing up tangy fruit ice creams using perfectly ripe summer fruit. Slightly overripe or blemished would be fine as well. This recipe, for plum ice cream, is delightful (and easy!) and is a great base recipe to try other fruit ice creams. (Go easy on the sugar if you’re using a really sweet fruit, like peaches — 1/2 cup is plenty.) Next up: coconut milk based ice creams.
8. Avert eyes. Proceed as usual.
I think my point is that very little of what we do with food requires it to be beautiful. I mean, it’s just going to end up being macerated, mixed with stomach acids and pancreatic juices, and dripped down as a whitish homogenized substance to our small intestines. (Just took a test on the digestive system and am full of details you don’t want to hear.)
Here’s my challenge to self: if I pick up a piece of fruit with a mild bruise or scar this week, I’m still going to get it as long as it passes the sniff test. If I don’t die, I’ll keep doing it.
What would you add to this list? Do you eat ugly fruit?
Finally, check out this ringspot virus infected watermelon. It’s perfectly safe to eat, but it takes the cake for bizarre looks.