I pride myself on my baked desserts, especially my fruit tarts. I’ve had master chefs ask me for my recipes, a source of great personal pride.
Last week, however, I produced a blueberry tart that was, without doubt, the worst one I’ve served ever. The crust was perfect. The fruit was cooked, sweetened and thickened perfectly.
But it had no flavor at all. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
This was particularly distressing to me because blueberries are my favorite fruit. The folks I served it to said they enjoyed it, but I had a piece, too, and I knew they were just being polite. Blueberries without any flavor. Imagine.
As chain supermarkets spend millions sprucing up and modernizing their spaces and expanding their produce departments with eye-catching displays of exotic fruits and vegetables imported from far and wide, there’s something that’s going fundamentally wrong in these places.
The produce buyers are bringing in more mass-produced and gassed fruits and vegetables that look beautiful. But that’s where it ends. What looks great in the display often has no taste at all.
The exceptions, of course, are the beautiful fruits and vegetables we buy at the farmers market. But that’s only a few months of the year.
This trend to make fruits and vegetables look better than they taste started with tomatoes. I have a friend who’s in the tomato business. His company is completely vertically integrated. They produce their own seeds and plants and they own or lease farmland from Florida to Maine and follow the growing season as it moves from south to north. They mass produce tomatoes and bring along fleets of trucks with trailers that hold the freshly picked tomatoes. I learned that in order to make them immediately saleable, these freshly-picked (green) tomatoes are subjected to ethylene gas in those trailers on the way to the wholesalers to turn them bright red so they’ll look appetizing.
But they are virtually tasteless.
So I grow my own tomatoes or otherwise in the winter use canned. I don’t have the skill or space to grow berries and I would rather not use the canned fruit products, but I’ve learned that frozen berries, though they lack structure, do have flavor.
My wife and I are actually considering spending a considerable sum to erect a small greenhouse so that we can grow our own vegetables and herbs year-round because the stuff we’ve been getting at the supermarket just doesn’t taste good. Or it just doesn’t taste at all. I wonder if the nutrients have gone to the same place the flavor has, too.
A number of my chef friends around the country have become “locavores.” It means they are sourcing most of their food locally, rather than buying from brokers who bring in foodstuffs from places unknown. They’re developing relationships with farmers and ranchers in their immediate area who can provide fresh produce, meat and poultry that does not go through the vast processing machinery of corporate agribusiness.
In other words, they know exactly where the food they’re cooking and serving comes from.
In some respects, being a locavore may mean paying a little more for your foodstuffs, as you forego the cost-savings of mass production.
But I think I’d rather that my food has flavor, so I’m joining the locavore movement.
That tasteless blueberry tart was the last straw.
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