On ugly produce

Dirty AND ugly

If someone hasn’t told you already, rely on me to say it:  Some, if not most, of the veg and fruit you will grow will not resemble grocery-store produce.

And what does this say about you, humble organic gardener?  Are you a failure for having cracked tomatoes, vole gnawed-upon carrots, the occasional sun-exposed greenish potato?  The scabby apple, the slug-eaten cabbage?  The (horrors) lacy flea beetle-eaten tatsoi, the wormy broccoli?  Do you SUCK at this growing thing?

You, most assuredly, do not.  You are simply the victim of inflated expectations. The stuff in the grocery store is frankenstein food, carefully chemically inflated, picked underripe, coated with wax and shipped long distances merely to fool you into thinking This is the Pinnacle of Produce.   Do not be fooled, and take heart.

Merely tasting any of your (painfully) (laboriously) (mother-hennishly) homegrown produce should assure you that you’re doing the right thing.  That you’ve befriended your vegetable peeler in ways that you never previously considered?  Consider this your new reality.  Get over it, and tell anyone else who would care to get over it, too.  It ain’t no beauty pageant.

That said:  even though I am now growing for lots of other families thanks to my small CSA, there is stuff I won’t share with them.  Harvesting my potatoes and cabbage recently kind of brought this home to me.  I have absolutely NO problem peeling a green potato or two (as long as it’s not overly green) and/or chopping away a thick-cored, tough red cabbage, but my CSA peeps might!  So, what to do with my harvest of Uglies?

Soup.  Soup equalizes all ugliness, and is in itself quite transformative.  In the big pot tonight are a dozen spotty beets, three wormy leeks, a few scabby apples, and about four slug-riddled red cabbages:  clean off all their bad spots and bugs, chop finely, place in that big pot simmering pot of caramelized onions and garlic, a handful of herbs and topped off with a decent (homegrown/canned) parsley/celery-based vegetable broth?  This is the basis for a wonderful vegan red soup.  Once fully softened, it gets put through the food mill.  Wine red, appropriate for the harvest.  It’s up to you, CSA member, on how to garnish it:  feta?  yogurt?  croutons?  chives?  Look in your share this week and find some inspiration.

And the rest of you homegrowers not in my CSA?  Do NOT let anyone tell you your veg/fruit children are ugly!!

14 responses to “On ugly produce

  1. they are my children! every last forked carrot lol…

  2. As a volunteer at a small organic garden (I help wash & sell the produce), I often get to take home the ugly, damaged, and older produce. It still tastes wonderful! The only downside is that it often does not keep as well and has to be processed promptly even though it also has to feed us for the week. Once I rearranged my schedule to account for that, it’s worked out really well. And homegrown produce keeps so much better than the stuff sold in grocery stores, harvested who knows when for shipping!

  3. Far from being ugly, my forked carrots are “interesting beauties”!!! And it’s all down to you – sorry, let me clarify: the fact that I’ve got carrots at all is all down to you (& your sound advice about germinating under damp cardboard) and the fact that they are forked is down to me growing in too-recently manured soil (apparently). Our guests relished in the weird shapes & sizes of the garden produce & kept saying, delightedly: “Not an EU regulation in sight around here!!”
    BTW – love the new header photo. Is that REALLY red sweetcorn??!

  4. Well, they are ugly. But oh so tasty. I don’t grow for market, but I’ve had to educate friends that I’ve given produce to about what happens to their food before it reaches the store.

  5. I grew 7-top turnip greens for the first time this year. Like the greens, don’t really care for he root. Anyway, all this deep lobed, medium sized, hairy, purple and green leaves came up, nothing like the like the large smooth turnip greens I had seen in the store. I harvested them and cooked them and their taste is SO much better, I can’t even look at turnip greens in the store anymore!

    I had to convince a friend that my mis-shapen Cherokee Purple tomato was better than the perfect red “stem-on” tomatoes she bought from the store. It only took one bite. Now she wants 2 plants when I start my seeds next year!

  6. Ya hit it on the head there, El. Ate home-grown swiss chard from the garden tonight. What amazing flavor. It wasn’t the tenderest of stuff, but not bad, not tough, and just so flavorful with a dash of cider vinegar and hard-boiled egg. And I have been paring away rotten or worm eaten or slug slimed parts of tomatoes and I’m still eating the rest of them. Nothing better. Really, we’re getting the nth depth of flavor just before the frost.

  7. Yes, when we grow organic, things may not be as pretty… Some of my carrots were so oddly shaped, my husband put pictures of them on his Facebook page. I decided when preparing roasted red peppers for canning that organic gardeners probably shouldn’t can anything whole (without cutting it open to see what might be inside!). But as you say, totally worth it!

  8. I’ll take the ugly and healthy over the pretty chemicalized mutants any day 😉

  9. One of my very favorite books is Blithe Tomato by Mike Madison. Somewhere in there he says that “Crooked is good” as he is talking about the produce that farmers bring to the local market. He will bring some odd dried stems – not the usual bright, cheery, large flowers that most people want – and when the rare, odd person stops and says I’ll take those, he just gives them away after chatting for a bit, knowing that he has found a kindred spirit. And that is reward enough.

  10. It astounded me when my friends first harvest wasn’t perfect. I didn’t even think about how the supermarket “franken-fruit” changed my expectations of how fresh produce should look. Once I tasted it, I didn’t care one bit how it looked! This is a great post!

  11. Soup, the great equalizer–excellent.

    I don’t even think that those character-ful veggies are ugly. I mean, what’s attractive about the Stepford-like uniformity of the industrial produce sold in grocery stores? Disspiriting, is what it is, that kind of vegetable conformity. Your “ugly” vegetables are just lettin’ their freak flags fly, El!

    Right on~ Brett

  12. Love this post, El. So good. Thanks for flying in the face of the culture of prettified garden blogging out there. I’ve got nothing against pretty pictures, don’t get me wrong, but a little honest ugliness and dirtiness every once in a while is a great reality check. Because we’ve been selling at tailgate markets for the past two years, I’m quite familiar with the “save the ugly for us” method. I’ve come to appreciate the damaged, ugly, and non-standard produce: “Ooh, this one will be for us.” Appreciating you as usual!

  13. MamaBean: exactly!! My only beef with forked carrots is they’re hard to clean…otherwise, well, lots of love.

    Chile, glad you’re not opposed to the cast-offs! And I don’t have much experience with any produce sticking around, frankly, except maybe cabbage. It’s why I eat it right after harvest…but in your situation, in most people’s situation, that’s not realistic. That said, the stuff even on its sixth day is so much more nutritious. And maybe just adjusting the schedule a bit to use up the fast-rotting ones first, heck, we should all be doing that no matter where the stuff comes from.

    Hiya Den! Glad I could help in your carrot quest. Sometimes they just fork, who knows why…guess we should ask the carrots themselves. And hah, that stuff on the header is popcorn! I suppose I could’ve eaten it at the sweet stage, but…

    Fritz, we could all use that kind of education. Frankly it does make you wonder what happens to the stuff that doesn’t make it, right? I mean, do the pickers at least get to take the ugly stuff home with them?

    JoAnna, i get the hairy-leaved thing often. I think it’s a defense mechanism to hot weather, frankly, because the same turnips won’t be ick-fuzzy when grown in the cold greenhouse in the winter. Just fyi. Glad you’re educating your friends! See? One step at a time. First the gardener, then whom the gardener feeds.

    There is something to that, isn’t there, Sharon: the poor plants are putting out their best flavor just before giving up the ghost. Oh! And I have a book for you, gotta find it somewhere here and send it on.

    Susan, I have often found a pepper-within-a-pepper, isn’t that fun? Like, hey, an extra harvest, bonus! Doesn’t happen much from the store (not that I can remember anyway, it’s probably been 8 years since I bought a pepper at the store). That cracks me up about your husband though.

    Hi Melissa, glad you’re on board 😀

    Dennis, I think you’ve mentioned that book before. I worship his sister you know. I like the idea that he gives things away…! It must be fun to chat. I don’t think my uglies could stand the scrutiny of a farmer’s market…or maybe that is just me and my garden insecurities talking.

    Susan, I have said it before, I think the other awful thing industrial produce does is deaden people’s taste buds to what nutrient-dense, decent food tastes like. Who cares about the bumps and bruises, I am bumped and bruised too. But indeed, it is ALL good that comes out of your own garden.

    Yeah, Brett, believe me I have so embraced the un-uniform that it’s more or less an anomaly that anything truly gorgeous gets harvested, and if it does, it makes me suspicious. This was more a paean to the masses of new-ish gardeners who might be disappointed they’re not growing the garden equivalent of, I don’t know, beauty queens or something. Taste, people!

    Milkweedy, I am quite sure you’ve had a huge education in your years of truck farming. (I was frankly wondering where it was all going, years ago, when you had that mondo garlic harvest, then you grew seedlings and then I saw your escalation had, you know, a purpose!) Indeed, I don’t know if I could ever not be honest about how non-pretty it all can be. Like I can’t hold back about how good it tastes too. Sometimes it all gets forgotten so I gotta say it again (and again). But thanks…!

    • I’ve only been really gardening for a couple years. And I know that I was the same way, I wouldn’t think of eating the ugly produce. After all, if it looks like that, it can’t be good. Yeah, right.

      I suspect that the ugly produce is sold to makers of stuff like canned soups. I doubt that the workers that are picking the produce get to take much home with them.

      Those peppers inside peppers is pretty cool. But the coolest is to have a tomato seedling inside a tomato that recently came off the vine.

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