Monday, March 5, 2007

We're being Cheated!

When you go to the grocery store, how many kinds of eggplant can you find? There's the deep purple one that everyone recognizes, perhaps the long, thin lighter purple asian eggplants. If you are really lucky, and shop at a "fancy" store, you might find white eggplants, smaller than the "regular" kind. At a farmers market during growing season, especially in an upscale area, you might be able to find Rosa Bianco, with lovely lavender swirls on a white background. But that's about it, at least in the places where I shop.

Well, if this what you know of eggplants, let me tell you, you don't know nothin'!

I just got my hard copy of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds 2007 catalog, and I am in awe. Jere Gettle, Baker Creek's founder, lists 39 kinds of eggplant. Thirty Nine! Seven pages of different kind of melons, not including watermelons, and 25 varieties of cucumbers! Not to mention the six pages of winter squash, and the tomatoes broken down in to color categories- green, orange, pink, purple, red, striped, yellow and even white.

My jaw dropped; I was amazed. And as I thought about the variety of foods available at my local grocery store, the main thought running through my mind was "I've been cheated!" (Or maybe it was "I'm BEING Cheated!") Even in the best, fanciest, yuppiest grocery store you don't find this sort of variety in the produce section. So here we sit, eating the same 5 or 6 vegetables- corn, green beans, broccoli, lettuce. Wow, I'm hard pressed to think of others. Spinach, maybe? Carrots? This sparsity of veggies is perpetuated; we end up feeding our children the same few things. Why, when there are so many lovely things to eat in the world?

Transportation, for the most part, is the culprit. We get to eat those things that tranport well. The average dinner travels over 1500 miles "from field to fork" , so we are limited to eating things that can be picked green and travel well. By and large, being picked green and transporting well doesn't equal tasting good.

Fear is another reason- we are afraid we won't like the taste of something, or that we won't know how to prepare it. We pass that on to our kids too, feeding them special "kid friendly foods" and teaching them that they really shouldn't be expected to like anything they have never had before.

How can we fix it? First, by eating local. If you can't garden, join a CSA (Community Sposored Agriculture). Find one near you at Local Harvest or The Eat Well Guide or The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. If there are no CSA's near you, try a farmers market. It's a fun Saturday trip.

Second, be willing to experiment. I had collards and kale for the first time this year, because they were in my CSA share- I LOVED them! We tried celeriac for the first time, too, same reason. If it's in your CSA box and you have already paid for it, what a great incentive to try it at least once. At the farmers market, ask the farmer, chances are she will have some recipes or cooking suggestions. Or use the Force, er, the Internet. You can find a recipe for anything there. Of course, if you are reading food blogs, you are probably already an adventerous eater, and I'm preaching to the choir here!

By the way, there are places in your grocery store where you can find diversity- among the processed foods. The cereal aisle, the chip aisle, the soda aisle. Isn't it pitiful that we have so much choice amongst the manufactured food (Typically made from corn and wheat, plus a big slug of preservatives and artificial colors) and so little choice amongst the real foods?
Well, I've placed my seed order. I did have a problem related to the number of varieties available, though- I had a hard time choosing only the amount I can fit in my garden. Oh, well, I have long tried to convince my husband that the front lawn is wasted space- perhaps this is the year I'll put a new garden in out there. Then you'll be able to identify my house- I'll be the one with 39 eggplants instead of bluegrass.


Robbyn said...

Yes! That Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog is sooooooo addictive! did you see how many melons, beans, lettuces, squashes, tomatoes, and...well the list goes on and on...they have??

Oh MY!!!

I'm going to asking you midsummer just WHAT you're going to do with all that eggplant...I could use a few more eggplant ideas since we don't eat that much of it ...yet :)

As for the front yard idea...go for it!

Willa said...

Oh, I probably won't get ALL that eggplant, Chuck doesn't like it (Although he has never tried 99% of the varieties they have listed!) I will do a couple. We have a big problem with flea beetles attacking the eggplant, and so this year I am going to put them in pots to see if I can control that.

There is a Bosnian, um, relish, spread, I don't know what to call it, called Ajvar- I love it and want to make my own. Baba Ghanoush is tasy- it's a Greek dip for pita bread. I like thin slices of eggplants brushed with olive oil and grilled. My dad took me to a restaurant just before I moved away from home and they served an appetizer made from the thin sliced grilled eggplant wrapped around a piece of prosciutto and a slice of provelone- to DIE for! And when I was a kid, the first time I remember liking eggplant was when we visited a family friend, a home-ec teacher- who sliced and breaded it, fried it, and then layered it in stacks with cheese, then we put Tabasco sauce on when we ate it. (Now that I think about it, this *was* the '60's, maybe it was ketchup instead of Tabasco- that would have been pretty daring for MO in the 60's!)

Bobbisox said...

Willa, I got my Tuscan Black Kale seeds at Armstrong Nursery and at another place. I planted two packages, about 3 weeks in between and the seeds come up fast. Try it in the tuscan sausage and potato soup..heaven.
Those seed cataloges are so seductive, and my yard is so small.