Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Tasteless strawberries and wilting lettuce March 10, 2011

I LOVE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES.

But I don’t always love the quality of the fruits and vegetables I find in the grocery store. In my opinion, they are often sub-par.

Because I live in Minnesota, I am not all that educated about fresh fruits and vegetables. Our cold climate and short growing season limit our native selections. We rely on “imports” from Florida and California and other much warmer places.

That said, I have no idea when growers pick oranges or strawberries or fill in the blank here. How mature, or immature, is the fruit?

Are oranges, like bananas, harvested when they are green? How about strawberries? Muskmelon? Is all fruit plucked before it’s ripened?

I raise that question because I bought a pound of Florida strawberries the other day that looked oddly, unnaturally overripe. Yet, I didn’t see any telltale mold. My husband theorized that they were “picked green and gassed.”

Is fruit really “gassed,” and what does that mean?

 

A few of the Florida strawberries from the pound I purchased.

The strawberries were rather tasteless, but added a jolt of color to my lettuce salad. If you live in Minnesota or any other cold climate, you’ll understand the need for a jolt of color this time of year. (It’s been a long, cold and snowy winter.)

That brings me to the lettuce. I doled out $2.99 for a bunch of Romaine lettuce at the same time I bought the strawberries. Normally I would pass on Romaine priced so exorbitantly high or even consider substituting iceberg lettuce (which I quit buying years ago because I prefer whole wheat to Wonder bread).

I was willing, though, to pay the $3. I wanted, needed, a Romaine salad. Unfortunately, the selection was not good. Small bunches. Wilted leaves and leaves edged with black. I chose the best and hoped I wasn’t throwing away my money.

 

I had already peeled off several layers of lettuce leaves before I took this photo. What are those brownish spots?

Well, I threw away about three salads worth of lettuce as I peeled off the layers of leaves to reveal what I term “rust.” I have no idea what the brown spots are inside lettuce leaves, nor do I know why leaves are sometimes tipped with black. I just know that I can’t eat it.

This frustrates me.

How many times have you purchased bad lettuce or fresh fruit that ends up in the garbage? I bet you’ve all tasted “baseball” hard peaches or pears and nectarines that never ripen and are as crunchy and dry as cardboard. One bite and in the trash they go.

So why are fruits and vegetables like this?

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on the quality of today’s fresh fruits and vegetables? I’d like to hear your insights and your experiences.

 

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

FYI: Amablu Gorgonzola cheese is made at Faribault Dairy in Faribault, Minnesota, where it is aged in sandstone caves along the Straight River. This is home to America’s first blue cheese plant, dating back to 1936. The award-winning cheeses produced in my community are among my favorite cheeses.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling