In Praise of Bruised Fruit

bruised fruit

One of my fondest fall memories from childhood is that of driving out to Sauvie Island to visit the Bybee-Howell House. My mom, sister and I would wander the antique apple orchard and pick the newly fallen apples off the ground. When we first moved to the area, we asked the groundskeeper and he requested that we not to touch the apples still on the trees (they used them to make fresh-pressed cider in September), but that we were welcome to as many windfall apples as we could carry.

We’d fill paper grocery bags until they were nearly ready to split open and then head home to make applesauce. I’d help my mom with the peeling and chopping, and I quickly learned from watching her that it was easy enough to cut around the bruises and occasionally wormholes, leaving behind perfectly useable (and delicious, fragrant, delicately-flavored) fruit.

Because of that early education in the use of imperfect fruit, I’ve never been one to shy away from damaged apples, overripe pears (pear butter), brown bananas (banana bread) or a peach with a bit of mold on one end (peach jam, sauce or butter). I see the potential in each piece and feel compelled to help all the remaining good parts of the nectarine achieve its delicious destiny.

One might think that living in the center of a large city would preclude me from having opportunities to find and use this less than perfect produce. However, it is not solely the provenance of aging orchards and roadside farmstands. I see it everywhere. Just last week I bought four pounds of slightly squished apricots at Reading Terminal Market for $2.97 (which was enough for a full batch of jam). Sue’s Produce often bags and sells their declining fruit and veg for pennies. And the vendors at my local farmers markets adore handing over bags of imperfect fruit to people who appreciate it and will put it to good use (don’t forget, these are people who love the act of growing food and dislike letting their food go to waste).

I am not advocating using fruit that has gone off or has begun to ferment (that’s a whole other kind of preservation). However, in these times, when we’re all looking for ways to spend less and save more, it’s important to accept the imperfect and learn just how useful a good paring knife can be.

Several days ago, Salon.com published an article about canning, in which the author ruminates on the economic realities of home canning and concludes (after some first hand experimentation) that while it can be a rewarding hobby, it is neither an effective use of time nor a frugal endeavor (in one paragraph, she calls canning “a small, sustainable luxury and a craft”). While I can see the position she’s coming from (she bought her ingredients at a New York Greenmarket, which is conceivably one of the most expensive possible ways to buy produce), I find myself distraught by her thesis. While it’s true that jars cost money, and that if you’re not careful, you can spend more on fruit that you might have planned, to me, canning is an essentially frugal act. Particularly if you search out the imperfect fruit like I talked about above.

Canning is also about choosing to take the act of food creation out of the hands of large corporations and return it to the home. It’s about knowing where your food came from and what went into it. It’s about always having a delicious gift to give to friends and family. It’s about stashing away the peak of summer for the dark, cold days of December and January. It’s about investing your time in the things that matter. It’s about creating something soul soothing and beautiful.

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29 Responses to In Praise of Bruised Fruit

  1. 1
    Kate says:

    Hear hear! In fact, I’m heading down to my city’s big market tomorrow morning to see what’s available, and I’m hoping I can find some under the weather fruit to take home and make jam with. I may have to wait a week or two though, not 100% sure whether stuff will be ready since the weather here has been awful.

  2. 2
    Whitney says:

    I think it is also the point that you don’t plan to can tomato sauce right when tomatoes hit the market but wait a month when the stands will sell you a huge box for $20 bucks. I bought two pints of raspberries last week. Ate on them a few times with breakfast, made a buttermilk cake studded with them, and then when they started to get a little mushy and tired looking, I made them into jam instead of wasting them. Is this the point?

    And man is the jam wonderful swirled into greek yogurt and granola :)

    Thanks for your insight and website. You gave me the confidence to take the first canning step and it really is easy.

  3. 3
    Marisa says:

    Kate, I’m so glad to hear you’re in search of “under the weather” fruit (I got a kick out of that phrase).

    Whitney, you’re absolutely right. You wait until things are at their peak, when the markets are drowning in tomatoes, peaches or blackberries. That’s when you can! And I’m delighted to hear that I’ve helped inspire you to can! That totally makes my day!

  4. 4
    Jane says:

    I liked what you said, about canning. For me I buy most of my fruits and veggies at stands that I know the farmer is growing it. I have done an average cost per jar/can and it’s about 2.00 (including the jar), are some a little higher yes, some are little lower. Now adays with all the recalls I like control! Do I work heck yes.

    One last note has anyone ever known any who has worked at some of these canned places (no names just where they can fruit and make jams?) I have and she doesn’t buy anything that has been canned. Something else to think about!

  5. 5
    Bonnie Story says:

    I just have to share that I delightedly copied down your sour cherry recipe and dreamed of finding a source for them. Then my phone rang and my neighbor told me about another neighbor, an elderly lady, with a huge “pie cherry” tree and no grandkids to pick them this year (soccer camp, undoubtedly) and, would we like to come pick all the cherries we want??? Wow – ask the universe for something and ye shall receive! So, I’m going pickin’ later today and I’m just thrilled to have your recipe ready for our preserving session. I’m really enjoying this blog and thanks to Gluten Free Girl, I’m hooked on it now.

  6. 6
    Leigh says:

    This may be way more expensive. I’m in a large city and our farmer’s markets won’t sell cases and often are just froo froo as you can get. I bought a case of apricots from my local co-op. Price 60 dollars. That’s 24 pounds. Add in the price of pectin, seasonings, and “flavoring” fruit for the batches of compote and chutney I averaged a cost of 3 dollars per pint. I know my ingredients were organic, I know they were clean and prepared to the taste I like. I can’t buy a pint for 3 dollars at any store that is organic. Period. I put a cost of 50 cents in for each jar used (a mix of pints and half pints) in that price. I realize that 50 cents is less than what the jar actually cost but I figure that the jar should last me a few years and so figured a yearly cost over the realistic life of the jar (minus lids) at about 50 cents a year. I don’t see this as being a bad calculation at all – and improving significantly as soon as my own trees bear fruit in another year or two (in amounts enough for canning – not just eating as soon as they might be ripe enough;)

  7. 7

    Even though canning might not be the cheapest method of food preservation, I think she fails to see the costs saved as a result of the lifestyle of the person who might can in the first place. The people I know who want to can there own jam, pickled veggies, etc., have a lifestyle that includes eating whole foods, not eating every other meal out of a McDonald’s or Wendy’s bag, which probably results in less medical costs over their lifetime. So yes, canning might be a bit more expensive in the short term, but I think we’re saving money in the long-term with regard to our health and well-being.

  8. 8
    Fran says:

    You don’t need much space to grow enough veggies for canning, as I found out. I think a lot of city row homes have enough backyard to grow your own. I know the row home I used to rent had a tiny brick patio, but lots have a tiny dirt square instead. The garden space that Greg used to grow our cucumbers in is a lot smaller than “row home yard size” and now we have 12 pints of pickles. I don’t even need to say how much cheaper growing your own is compared to buying! And there are a TON more blossoms on those cucumber plants!

  9. 9
    Lelo says:

    It’s fascinating to read the negative responses regarding canning and preserving your own food. I had some negative things in the blogosphere said about me last year when I launched into a summer of preserving and discovering how to can for the first time. (!!!, I know!) I was shocked that someone could think poorly of it, but it’s from people who don’t get the whole big picture, and see how elements of our lives are intertwined. Taking back control of where we get our food is tough, thoughtful and mindful work, and the process of discovery when we first do it is pretty big. I have loved connecting to others who “get it” and you get it. :)

  10. 10
    Aubrey says:

    I rescued end-of-season clementines from the store today for a pittance – clementine marmalade anyone? Wasn’t even looking for them, but this post must have been in my mind…

  11. 11
    tigress says:

    i also think that it doesn’t have to be either or. there can be times when you know you may spend a little more when you want to produce something even more than exceptional for a gift or a treat for yourself – and other times when you have a glut of blueberries and you want to preserve! the point [for me] is canning, food-crafting, growing, producing and preserving your own food is part of a larger picture of taking control of what we put into our bodies and ultimately how we enjoy our lives. i grow as much of our food as i can and i am a business owner in a very non-food related business that has to spend at least 40 hours a week at my desk…i can’t wait to get in the garden or kitchen most times! :)

  12. 12
    BrooklynCanner says:

    I have to disagree that NYC Greenmarkets are the most expensive ways to buy produce. In fact, in New York, they are some of the cheapest ways to buy produce! We in the city don’t have the benefit of cheap, quality produce.
    That isn’t to say that I think canning is the most frugal thing to do. However, if you plan it out, it can be quite cheap. I don’t can big vats of stuff, usually only small batches so I am unaffected by the farms that don’t sell things in bulk as some have noted. I also tend to only buy things at the height of their season, when the prices are much cheaper. If you reuse your jars and simply buy new lids the price is also much cheaper. I also plan on giving many of my canned items as gifts to friends and family during the holidays, so I’m cutting down on rather expensive presents.
    I think canning is probably my least expensive hobby. Plus, it produces a year-round treat of GREAT food and I am cutting out some mass-preserved and produced foods out of my body (not to mention the recycling of jars).

  13. 13
    Tony says:

    I was very heartened to see a reasonable alternate point of view to the Salon article, which I really disagreed with on many levels. With all due respect to its author, I think many things are expensive either the first time or when you’re “dabbling” (not meant in a snooty way, just that it did seem that way a little). The weekend before that article came out I had made 40 jars of pickles and calculated their cost to be slightly under $2 per jar, and that was including the cost of the jars! So to me it’s a lot about frugality, but also about sourcing your produce opportunistically, either through the bruised or late fruit methods. Also last Saturday I got a 15 lb box of beautiful, organic, but just a hair over-ripe Rainier cherries – $20, and I got 11 pints of canned cherries out of it. So I feel it definitely can be frugal, but most importantly fun!

  14. 14
    Debby says:

    Hurray for finding you! I just taught myself how to make homemade jam– water bath technique. It was so easy, I couldn’t believe it. I’m hooked! My next step is learning how to make pickles.
    I am your newest eager student! In fact, I’m giving away a canning kit for my first giveaway on my food blog.
    Debby

  15. 15
    Tim M says:

    The article also seems to have some major errors. The person seems to be basing the price of a jar on the price of all the materials together for an entire batch. Unless she’s been buying a new All-Clad stockpot for each batch of jam, there’s no way those prices are realistic on the “per-jar” basis. In my experience, making simple jams with fresh fruit and pantry staples, it costs about $5-10 with jars per batch, making each pint of jam come out around $.80. I could get fancier and use booze and more expensive flavorings, but even then I can’t imagine going over $20, which is a fair price for a project that makes enough of a condiment for a whole year.

    Also, the materials can be quite cheap if you talk to your friends about it. Many people having canning stuff from their parents and would be glad to give it away. I just got something like 40 Mason jars, canning tongs, and a canning kettle from a neighbor who was cleaning out her attic. Considering I’ll only need a 30 cent lid whenever I want to use one of the jars, canning is definitely the cheapest hobby I’ve had in a while. In fact, I think it’s cheaper than regular cooking as it specializes in seasonal vegetables and fruit with generally modest ingredients.

  16. 16
    Tim M says:

    Also, I’d like to make a request. Blueberries are in season right now, so do you have any good recipes for canning them?

  17. 17
    michelle says:

    I love Leigh’s cost analysis!!! It is great. I figure my jars are even cheaper. I can subtract out other costs such as movies, six flags, etc because my kids are excited to stay home and have a “cooking class with mom”. It cuts down on the McDonald’s requests because it is more fun to eat what we cooked. And I won’t be investing in a big scrapbook hobby because every time we open a jar, we are reliving the experience! I consider it a moment in time that is an investment in my kids’ futures- hopefully they will grow up to can and cook and pass it on to their kids! And we even swap jars with a friend who cans so we can taste new things. I have to admit that even “store bought” can be a learning experience- we buy our quince jam (my 6yo’s favorite???) at the local ethic market where the owner’s wife and mother-in-law make the jam..I wouldn’t know a quince if it hit me in the face, but we know about quinces, different cheeses, pastries and herbs from talking to this family!

  18. 18
    Libby says:

    Hello. I agree that canning doesn’t have to be a luxury.

    A question, though, about bruised fruit. With peaches like those in the picture above, how deep do you pare them when cutting them up to make jam? When do you consider something a lost cause? Sometimes I wonder if I throw away too much when I’m cutting up imperfect fruit.

  19. 19
    Hanna S says:

    Hmmm…I’ve never added up the cost of canning. I suppose I’m lucky to live in a small town where old ladies either give me jars or sell them very cheap because they just don’t can anymore. And while fruit can be a bit expensive, it’s also often free when a co-worker has too many pears or there’s a wild orchard at the end of the lane.

    That said, maybe I’m not just lucky, there’s lot of reasons why I don’t live in the city anymore.

  20. 20
    Julie Parr says:

    Another point about bruised fruit: being willing to buy it helps the conditions of migrant farmworkers.

  21. 21
    Fran's Mom says:

    Gone are the days when I could spend a few hours in my mother-in-law’s raspberry patch on a hot day in July, reaching into the center and down low in the shady spots to pick the jewels of summer — quarts of them! For free! My husband always secured a couple of quarts for pie (with chocolate cookie crust and whipped cream), but my bliss was making jam. The color! The fragrance! The anticipation of incredible flavor!
    Making jam had nothing to do with saving money — it was capturing the essence of hot, sunny day to savor (on popovers) on cold winter mornings, especially Christmas. Now, I have to buy my berries if I can find them, far afield from the city — and they don’t taste as good as my mother-in-law’s used to — but I’m still hooked on making jam.

  22. 22
    Dianne says:

    Fantastic post — very well said. I particularly like the idea of rescuing the rest of the fruit and allowing it to fulfill its delicious destiny. Wonderful!

    Meanwhile, canning is one of the most frugal acts I know. There is a reason your grandmother and great-grandmother put up food. And it wasn’t because it was trendy!

  23. 23
    Kerri says:

    I am so glad I read this post! This will be my very first year canning and I am determined to do so in a money-saving way. So, if the fruit doesn’t come from my garden, I wanted to be able to buy imperfect, discounted fruit from local orchards (like windfalls). But, when I read from most sources that you should not can damaged fruit, I was nervous. You seem to do so successfully, however, so I am hopeful again. Can you please tell me which types of recipes stand up to using damaged or slightly overripe fruit and which do not? For instance, should I only use these for fruit butters or chutneys? Your advice is greatly appreciated…thanks so much! :)

  24. 24
    Helen says:

    I remember when my daughters were small we stopped at a farmers market to buy a few items,, tomatos, corn on the cob,,, the farmer ask me if i wanted 5 crates of strawberries,, he said they were bruised and noone would buy them because they didnt look perfect,, he gave these to me and my girls free of charge,, we went home, cut away any really bad areas,,, we had the best sweetest strawberries for shortcake we had ever had and i froze the rest so we were able to enjoy this treat long past the normal in season time period…….. so now when i shop for strawberries,, i look for the older less the perfect looking berries,, its ture the darker the berry the sweeter they taste,,,,, God bless that kind old farmer from 20 years ago!!!

  25. 25

    [...] Don’t buy fruit that’s bruised or where the skin has been cut  (unless you're going to use it right away).  Wounding a fruit will increase ethylene production and cause the fruit to ripen faster.  Then [...]

  26. 26
    Addy says:

    I have two questions about this bruised concept: I’ve just made my first batch of jam, and I misunderstood the difference between bruised and ‘squished up against each other.’ Of all my strawberries, none were moldy and most were perfectly pretty. I did cut off the especially bad bits, but I’m sure that about 10% of the berries had one of those light smush marks from being crammed into the container against another strawberry. I thought those were acceptable blemishes. So….should I toss this batch out and chalk it up to experience? All my jars sealed wonderfully, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    • 26.1
      Marisa says:

      Addy, it sounds like you did it perfectly. As long as you cut off the truly bad bits, it’s fine if you use fruit that’s been mildy smushed. Those are acceptable blemishes. No need to toss your batch!

  27. 27
    Melissa says:

    I started a small business this year making jams and jellies. I pride myself on using whole fruit and low sugar. I love checking out the ‘seconds’ section in my grocery because I can often come up with a new flavor just by seeing what is ‘priced to move.’ I made Banana Rum jam this past week that was a HIT at the market today. I buy my jars in bulk so I save quite a bit on that way. However some jams are pricer, but some are much cheaper so it all balances out in the end. Thank you for your lovely blog, I have gotten quite a lot of inspiration from your words. And more power to us who are willing to see fruit for it’s flavor and not for the shape =)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Chemistry Blog » Blog Archive » Fruit Ripening: How Does It Work? - October 12, 2011

    [...] Don’t buy fruit that’s bruised or where the skin has been cut  (unless you're going to use it right away).  Wounding a fruit will increase ethylene production and cause the fruit to ripen faster.  Then [...]

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