Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Produce Rut

Conor with the Hami melon

I've spent much of my life in a produce rut. There wasn't a lot of experimenting with new and exciting types of fruits and veggies in my household growing up. It was the usual salad: lettuce (iceberg), tomatoes (although they were Jersey tomatoes!), cucumbers, and maybe some shredded carrots. Maybe. In the garden we grew corn and some squash--zucchini one year, pumpkins (I think), some beans and peas. As far as fruit goes, we stayed pretty safe: apples, oranges, grapefruit, pears, peaches (both of which were often canned), and some occasional berries. At my Grandmother's house, I ate turnips, to be adventurous. And I liked them! But, I didn't have my first taste of asparagus or spinach or kiwi, or many other things until I was an adult.

When I became a fully-fledged grocery shopper/meal preparer, I bought the same old standards that I'd always had. And I think that's just the way it goes: we keep on eating what we've always been used to eating. For those who gag just a little at Brussels sprouts, it's probably because our moms didn't cook them while we were growing up.

Then, as I became more interested in health and nutrition, and gardening even, I made small changes. For instance, I haven't bought a head of iceberg lettuce in more than ten years, I'm sure. I tried to expand my tastes and experience by trying new things, and having my children be used to them as well. Many years ago I never would have thought that a spinach strawberry salad with almonds would be delicious. But I do now. And still, I walk through the produce market that I go to, and pour over seed catalogs for my one-day dream garden, and think to myself, "What is all this stuff? And if I had it in front of me, what would I do with it?"

One of the best parts of summer is the abundance and variety of food that ripens from the earth. My kids and I decided that it would be fun for us to expand our horizons a bit, and try some of the bounty that is available to us, that before we've only passed by on the way to the apples, beans, and carrots. I will say that I am extremely proud to have raised kids that eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Even Conor surprised me the other day with his board book, when he correctly identified about 30 varieties of produce, most of which he's actually eaten. I was stunned! And this is a kid who just barely started talking! We definitely spend more on produce than on any other food category when it comes to grocery shopping.

Here's what we always buy from our produce market (this is all fresh, not frozen or canned, so obviously in the winter a lot of this is not available): 3 varieties of apples, 2 varieties of grapes, red pears, Bosc pears, white plums, red plums, white peaches, yellow peaches, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, oranges, clementines, tangelos, grapefruit (ruby red, usually), lemons, key limes, pineapple, baby carrots, 'regular' carrots, string beans, snap peas, snow peas, spinach, kale, 2 or 3 kinds of lettuce, green onions, yellow onions, 2 kinds of parsley, cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, mangos, red bell peppers (we don't care for the green ones), broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes (sometimes), celery, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, and garlic. Whew! How colorful! I also always have dried mango, apple, pineapple, raisins, and apricots for snacking. You might think, "That's a lot of produce!", and it is, but it goes fast around here, and it's so much cheaper than prepared snacks, especially if you can find a place to buy it that's not the grocery store.

We decided that each week we'll choose one or more new kinds of fruits or vegetables to try. Our first stop? The melon section. Lyndsay loves melons, and there are so many kinds!

Our first week we chose the 'regular' kinds, like watermelon, cantaloupe (which is really a muskmelon), and a honeydew. Then, we added a Sharlynne melon (spelled differently depending on whom you ask). We did some research online and learned that Sharlynnes are very perishable and must be eaten quickly upon purchase, so the next day we cut into that baby, and boy were we in for a treat! It was pale, like a pear inside, and the seedy center was very runny and easily poured out. It was so, so sweet. I can't even tell you how delicious it was! Lyndsay, Conor, and I ate the whole thing by ourselves over a couple of meals (and it was a 6 pound melon!) before the boys got back from their dad's.

The next week we thought we should try some squash. I usually buy crookneck squash (yellow squash) and zucchini, but I don't venture out much beyond those two. Well, I buy canned pumpkin, but maybe that doesn't count? No, I'm counting it. Anyway, I had tried spaghetti squash one time in my life and thought it was so super cool, but had never prepared one myself, so that's what we chose. We searched through recipes, and ended up adapting one to make it into a main course meal. Even Adam liked it, and he's generally not a fan of veggies.

(I know I do not have a good camera for food photography. So sorry!)

I cut the squash in half and baked it in an oven for about 45 minutes. Then, using a fork I shredded the inside flesh into the 'spaghetti' noodles. It's amazing, really. For the sauce, I used two cans of stewed tomatoes, a veggie bouillon cube, and some onion diced and sauteed in olive oil. I poured that sauce over the 'noodles', added a can of black olives, a couple of diced (cooked) chicken breasts, and then some mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and baked the whole thing in a casserole dish. It was even better as leftovers.

Our next week, Lyndsay gravitated back to the melons. We had to get another Sharlynne, of course, and let the boys in on our new delicious treat. But we also picked a Hami melon, after great debate. This is a melon that originates in China. Today we tried it, and were not really impressed. It was a bit crunchier than we like, and while it did have a medium sweetness to it, it also had a foretaste and an aftertaste that didn't work well for me. Now, we've read that this is a long-lasting melon and will keep (and slowly continue to ripen) if left on the counter for weeks, so it's possible that we just should have waited longer. But I don't think we'll try again with a Hami. I want melons that are very sweet.

We have many other fruits and vegetables that we're looking forward to trying (do I dare try rhubarb?), and we love that with each experiment we are broadening our appetites and nourishing our bodies. So. . .what else should we try?


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I don't think I can suggest anything you haven't already tried! For us there's been a big focus on nectarines and plums this summer, mmm...and cantaloupe. Nothing like a well ripened cantaloupe. We also love radishes sliced up into our salad. Yum!

I'm hungry now!

Hannah said...

Hey did you know that commercially canned pumpkin is actually made from butternut squash? It's true. Butternuts are sweeter and darker orange typically than pumpkins so that's what they use. So there's one more that you've tried!

I bought a spaghetti squash this week to try at your suggestion. I'm so excited to try it! We'll probably use it tomorrow.

Oooh! Oooh!! I have to tell you. For some reason I can't grow good cucumbers here. Because of the heat they always end up bitter. So instead I'm growing Armenian Cucumbers, which are actually a melon but work as well as a cucumber for salads and things. The first one is growing right now!! I'm so excited! I'm just loving all the new (to me) kinds of veggies.

Abby said...

I love you. Another post I was so excited about because that's where I'm at in my life too! And I was literally JUST talking to Orion about the lack of adventurous produce in our house growing up (and that statement is going to make mom feel like a failure and she's just not) and about how I also fell into that 'same old same old' rut..buying what I was *used* to and being envious of the people with the experimental or advanced palate. Grocery shops were so quick! But what with my "new way of life" (I swear, I will never ever go back to the way I used to eat now that I'm better informed!) it's causing me to explore the point that I stand in front of fresh herbs and they might not be labeled correctly..I stand there and I don't quite know which is which (though I do remember eating parsley at Pam's house as a kid before dinner every time I ate over..and eating kiwi at Rachel's)..and asking the produce clerks how to tell the ripeness of an avocado..and I've even Googled how to properly cut a star fruit. Yes I have! I'm trying to stick to the rainbow guidelines when buying produce now..that way I can ensure I'm switching it up and getting a variety of vitamins in the process and dude, I NEVER thought I would feel this passionate about eating properly *ever* but I'm so glad I do! I need to find me a Farmer's Market around these parts!

Trapped and Screaming said...

Try rhubarb! If you want I'll send you a really good recipe for rhubarb crisp. Sooooo good.

I'm with you. We grew up with very little variety in the produce dept. but lately I have been trying new stuff. I love the farmers market for that. Although, I admit that I come home with a huge bag of peaches every week. . .

Misty said...

I am still learning to experiment. I get stuck in a rut... but I totally advocate for health so I try. There is a book I LOVE called "Family Meals" by Maria Helmsinskey

She does some health stuff, but she just really had a way of challenging me to think outside the box.

Jenna said...

Abby, I worried that Mom would feel badly too, but she really doesn't need to. She probably did what her mother did before. Produce/health wasn't as in-the-know as it is now, and I think she did a great job feeding us. Now we have so much more information about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, so we have to make an effort to get out of our ruts more. When we know better, we do better, right? Or, hopefully, at least.

Jenna said...

Rachel, yes! Please send it to me! I'll try it!

Sarah said...

I bought an eggplant the other day in an effort to be adventurous. I've never had it before. I'm considering fixing it into eggplant parmesan for my lunch today.

I've always done the same thing too. Buying just what my mom bought and that was the very basics.

Since Josiah's biometrics test a couple weeks ago, we've been living off a lot of smoothies which have included a huge variety of fruits that I don't typically buy. Raspberries and blueberries particularly. Not so much because they aren't liked around here, but mostly because they are typically very expensive. Blueberries have been $1 for a pint (different stores each week) for the last couple weeks, so I have bought up a bunch and frozen them.

I still haven't been able to get Josiah to try any veggies though. He's very, VERY stubborn about it.

Anyway, sorry to ramble on so much. Have a super great day!

Hannah said...

Sarah, you know what I've noticed about eggplant? It's like a meal booster. You can put it in all kinds of things and it takes on those flavors. I llike to cut it up pretty small and cook it in my spaghetti sauce. No one ever notices!! Plus they get the extra nutrition that way. Shhh! Don't tell them though. It'll be our little secret.

Josi said...

Very cool--I did Spaghetti Squash for the first time last fall--it was a BIG hit! Definitely a keeper. I'm still working on expanding my horizons, though, I stick to my same old same old most of the time

Jennifer said...

I'm impressed with the wide variety of produce you buy each time. You're awesome! Of course, our moms didn't have access to the same variety of produce we do today nor did they have the internet- so if they didn't already know how to make something, it was more difficult. If you're looking to try something new, I can think of a few things... Chayote is a small squash that is shaped like a pear and is pale green. In Costa Rica they eat tons of it. Celeriac, or celery root, is great to use in soups or puree it- tastes so similar to mashed potatoes. You may or may not like lychee- but definitely try it (never canned, though!). If you're super adventurous, tasting durian at least once is something no one will ever forget due to the smell. Happy eating!

* said...

Love the squash dish. Anything with cheese melted on top, my kids will go for! I love it that my son eats raw spinach out of the bag with me, and my daughter asks for cucumbers for a snack. For me, it starts with the buying: if I buy healthy, we eat healthy. When I don't, we all pay for it.

Great post!!