Take the Fresh One

It was 3:00 in the afternoon and I was hungry. That horrible mid-afternoon munchy that makes you think you are starving. I headed for the fridge for my usual snack–a red pepper. Sometimes it gets a dab of peanut butter, sometimes a smear of soft cheese. Other times, just plain. A sweet red pepper is a perfect thing.

pepperAs I reached into the crisper drawer, I noticed a wrinkled pepper, older, slowing exhaling its crunchy texture in exchange for wrinkles shooting across its skin.

Automatically, I reach for it. Training from long ago. We were not allowed to eat the fresh, new fruit. No, we were to eat the older, mushy fruit or vegetable first. That way, nothing went to waste. Waste, of course, was an epic transgression of the laws of nature. I know, I know, but you didn’t know my parents and how close they had lived to starvation for years.

The result? We never ate anything fresh. We constantly foraged for the spotted, the almost inedible, and saved it from the trash by eating it.

I hesitated, my hand over the older pepper. I knew it would not be crunchy, and the bright red taste had faded to a tougher skin and limp texture. And then it struck me: there are omelets, soups, garnishes, juices that could benefit from the older pepper. But the firm one, the one glowing in the corner is meant to be eaten now. Not broken down by cooking, but celebrated for its perfection of temperature, color, and happiness.

So, with my Mother tsk-tsking in my memory, I pulled out the fresh pepper and enjoyed every fresh, juicy, refreshing bite. Life. Enjoy it while it’s fresh.

–Quinn McDonald sees big lessons in small places.


31 thoughts on “Take the Fresh One

  1. I first figured that out with inner vs. outer leaves of a head of Romaine or leaf lettuce. As a single person usually cooking for one, who likes to eat something different each night, I have had to learn to be OK with some food waste. I used to start using a head of lettuce by eating the more wilted outer leaves that would spoil sooner, and then realized that because of that I was throwing out the previously crispy inner leaves that had become wilted. So now I eat the choicest first. And bless their hearts, those Depression-era parents of ours.

    • Bless them, indeed. I just bought two baskets of very inexpensive blackberries, and decided to eat the good ones and toss the ones that made the cost cheap to begin with. A lesson I am putting into practice, like your lettuce leaves.

  2. I roast wrinkly red peppers, tomatoes that are going soft and garlic, then blend them with sliced almonds, herbs and a little olive oil to make a Romesco sauce. Like pesto, but less oil. Delicious on fish, veggies chicken, etc. Old produce goes gourmet!

  3. Eat the best, cook the rest! We grew our fruit and vegetables and that was what happened . . . they were sorted as they were harvested. Lucky me, yes, however frugality showed up everywhere else! If you can do it yourself, you definitely do not hire someone else to do it for you. I think DIY is in every New Zealanders DNA. If you don’t believe me check this out . . . it’s just 46 seconds.

    And a book writing weekend? I’m intrigued.

    • OMG, I had to watch it twice to understand the kids, but it is really funny!
      On book writing weekend–I need to start. For the first time as a writer, I don’t know how to organize the book, because it’s not really a how-to book as my others have been. So I decided just to start. It will become clear as I write. Or I’ll know what doesn’t work. Either case, it won’t get done if I don’t start.

  4. My father left my mother with six children back in the sixties. We had a hard time of it. I remember eating every jar of pears from the fruithouse and digging under the spring snow for the mustard greens. I use the old stuff but I always eat fresh the good stuff! And now that I have chickens and pigs I never feel wasteful. It comes back to me one way or the other!

  5. I relate, as well. Having parents who married in 1929 — who teased and said they caused the depression — I reuse aluminum foil, but only a couple of times; my mother kept a drawer full of smoothed out foil and used it till it tore.
    I have to consciously choose the fruit that isn’t bruised or wrinkled first.

    • Yep, same ideas. I reused some foil, and have a shameful collection of empty plastic containers–but I do teach art, and using them as brush rinsing containers works well. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  6. What a beautiful photo! I throw the older ones in the freezer for soups so they don’t go to waste. Wise choice Quinn! How’s the omelet this morning!

  7. Coincidentally, my parents share that genetic eat-the-older-stuff-first trait. They probably diverge in their childhood experiences — my parents are depression-era babies, and my father still stocks up on canned goods and has an obsession with warm winter coats. And I still hesitate when I reach for a better looking piece of fruit in the fridge!

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