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Handle With Care!

As we are now full on in Spring, the markets and stores will soon be chock full of spring and early summer produce! I wanted to talk a bit (or good bit as my posts tend to be…;)) about taking care of your produce from purchase to plate to make sure you get the most out of all the bounty that is just springing up! I was inspired to write this post to make sure y’all know the damage that can be done to produce when you don’t take care in handling after seeing multiple cashiers at the grocery store and even other cooks being a bit rough with produce. It just kills me every time I see it, so I thought instead of complaining about it, I’d try to help it by improving the general consciousness of the value of taking care with your produce!

Why does it matter? It’s just a vegetable…

Hey, we all have to make our calls for what matters in life and gentle handling of your veggies and fruit might not be at the top of everyone’s lists, nor should it be! A friend who recently came through the Essential Classes categorized me as “kind of a Food Nerd” and I couldn't really argue. So in true Food Nerd fashion, I wanted to go off a little on why it matters for anyone who also likes to “nerd-out” on food and cooking…;)

First off, fruit and vegetables are living things! While they aren’t sentient beings, they most definitely are still alive even though they have been picked. They are made up of cells that are still either ripening, or beginning the process of decomposing (it’s all part of the same process in case you didn’t know). Each of these cells are helping to keep the piece of produce alive and resisting breaking down, albeit an apple, a carrot, or a leaf of spinach. When we drop, toss, smush, or otherwise bruise our fruit or veggies, we crush those cells and accelerate the process of breaking down. Broken cells can’t ripen, they can only begin decomposing. So if you are hoping that the produce you bought is still ripening and you drop it, you can give up that hope. The ripening process stops with that drop and the decomposing process is drastically sped up!

Next, those cells that we were speaking of also contain all the flavor and juice of the produce. When we bruise our produce, then go on to cook with it, a lot of the juice, vitamins, and flavor in those cells that got bruised ends up on our cutting board, not in our meals. Unbruised produce literally tastes better! This may seem like a little thing, but the juicier the item (I’m looking at you peaches, berries, and tomatoes), the greater impact this has! This is another reason that maintaining a sharp knife and using good slicing techniques have a dramatic effect on your food, because they break less cells and keep more of the flavor of your produce in your food! This may seem like such a small variable, but truly great food is simply made by taking care of all these little steps along the way and this is a key one!

The last major part of why it matters is because of spoilage bacteria. One positive thing that has come out of the pandemic is that the general populace is now aware of the fact that we are all covered in bacteria! Your produce is no exception! This is why we should always wash our veggies and fruit (and yes, water is just fine) but also why bruising your produce is bad. When you break those cells, especially on the outside of the item, you introduce the bacteria that is on the outside to the interior. As all produce is the perfect environment for bacteria to grow (high sugar/starch and water content), breaking the exterior not only helps break down your produce in terms of spoiling, but also by the introduction of bacteria. Now, not to scare anyone that a split in a tomato is absolutely going to kill you, but it is a way that bacteria can enter your body and when the bacterial load gets too high that our immune system can’t take care of it easily, we do get sick. Simple as that… Don’t bruise your produce and it’ll help you live a healthier life!

1 in 1000

Now that you understand the importance of not bruising your produce, let me help with a few other thoughts to really help increase your understanding of food and cooking that are related to this idea. This next one is pretty simple on the surface, but remembering it in the back of your mind will hopefully help you take better care of your produce and your cooking as a whole. This one is one of my mantras in the kitchen:

“To you, it may just be one plate/potato/dish/etc. out of a hundred or a thousand. But to the person getting that dish/potato/knife cut/etc. , it’s the only one that matters (to them)!”

This is a simple mantra to keep in mind the importance of each and every move you make. Now this may be a little dramatic, but if you go out to eat and find just one hair in your food, you might think differently about how much “one little thing” matters… ;)

When you begin to think like this, it will help you take that extra 2 seconds to pick out a good piece of produce as well as that little extra 1 second of effort to not drop the bag of produce when coming from the store or market. To the “you” at the store or when you are unloading your produce, it’s just that one tomato (for example) of the many that you are buying. But to “you” when you are sitting down to eat that tomato sandwich you have been craving, that one tomato is the only thing that mattered from that trip to the store. Remembering this mantra/ideal throughout your buying, transportation, unloading, and prep processes will help you show the care you want to have been shown when you are sitting down to eat the fruits of your efforts! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

One last note about this idea; one of the reasons that produce from Farmers Markets is generally considered better is because of this ideal. Small farmers rely a lot more on each and every piece of produce that comes from their farms compared to large factory farms. For this reason, they typically take much better care of each and every item all along the journey from seed to sale. To them, each 1 is important, so they generally take more care of each and every one! The more care that can be shown all along the way to every part of your personal food system, the better your overall food will be in the end! It’s really that simple!

All the little things…

In my Essential Series, I spend a good deal of time talking about how to pick out good produce because of the importance of starting with good food! If you don’t start with good produce, you are going to have a much harder time making good food! Additionally, if you pick out an awesome piece of produce but then carelessly toss it around in transport, all that effort to “pick a good one” is essentially negated. And because everyone’s budgets don’t allow for only buying local produce, I try to make sure y’all know that even if you can’t buy local produce, you can still pick out good produce from the start, wherever you can buy your produce. And just like not abusing your produce, picking out good produce from the start sets you up to make tasty food! Plus if you can go to the Farmers Markets, you can also pick out the best from what’s there! Good food starts with good ingredients, whether it comes from a store, market, or your backyard!


Happy Cooking and Eating, Y’all!!

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