Help! I think I'm turning into a "grumpy old woman", and it's all because of some very good news which arrived recently via the media. To be fair, it's not so much the fabulous announcement that we should all be eating seven rather than the previously recommended five-plus fruit and veg a day that's got me fuming (after all, we gardeners have known for years that the more fresh produce we can get the better), it's the associated hype that I can't take. Every media-nutritionist, cook, and so-called foodie has seized on the announcement to tell us exactly what we should be looking for when selecting fresh produce. And guess what? According to the "experts", to be best for us, fruit and vegetables need to be in perfect condition!
As if it isn't already difficult enough for families on the bread-line to afford the required quantity of fresh produce, they're now being told to buy only perfectly ripe fruit and blemish-free vegetables (and we all know what they cost!). This approach to shopping (and, one assumes, gardening) is apparently even more important if you're planning to preserve or freeze the produce. Whatever happened to the concept of making jam from soft fruit bought cheap-as-chips or picked from the old cherry plum tree at the bottom of the garden? Or bottling your own woody pears that you know darn well will soften up as soon as they spend a few weeks in a jar of syrup? My preserving this year will consist of doing what I always do: stewing up the 40 kilograms of apples, complete with a few coddling moth holes and some bruises, that came courtesy of the wild tree down the road. I plan to bottle some, freeze some, and turn the rest (plus a few handfuls of completely imperfect blackberries – I figure the odd little worm can only up the protein content!) into jelly and paste.
As gardeners, we all know that real fruit and vegetables (the spray-free, home-grown or foraged, organic-as-we-can get'em sort) are seldom if ever "perfect". Gosh, if I waited around to harvest a cabbage that didn't have a few chew marks on its outer leaves, or a head of celery without leaf rust, I'd be waiting a long time! The skill of supplying your family with fruit and vegetables while keeping within a budget is not to be too precious about what you use. If the produce you buy isn't 100% fresh, or if the home-grown vegetables and fruit you harvest are slightly beyond their "use-by" date, it isn't the end of the world. If you're worried they may have lost some of their nutritional value through aging, simply eat more of them to make up for it!
That's my rant for the week – and now I'm away out to the garden to harvest a bucket of broad beans that I know have gone woody. Minced up with garlic and cumin as falafel, I couldn't hope to find a more delicious way of eating at least two of today's "seven-plus" helpings!