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An observation on how fruit easily available in the United States has changed during my lifetime - Bartender Geek [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Xiphias Gladius

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An observation on how fruit easily available in the United States has changed during my lifetime [Dec. 21st, 2015|09:48 pm]
Xiphias Gladius
I'm too young to have ever had a Gros Michel banana (similar cultivars still exist here and there around the world, but aren't widely grown, and aren't imported here), so I've pretty much only ever had Cavendishes. So bananas, in general, aren't any better than they were when I was a kid. But it's easier to get other varieties of plantain, for instance, and you can now get Lady Finger bananas pretty often. So, bananas haven't had a huge improvement over the past thirty years or so, but there's slightly more variety.

Citrus, though -- I think oranges have made some improvements in the past several decades. And grapefruit are orders of magnitude better. I buy a bag of 'em at Costco every couple of weeks, and just peel them and eat them -- that's something that wouldn't have been worth doing when I was a kid. People used to put sugar on grapefruit before eating it -- they're just SO much better now.

And then there's apples. The resurgence in actual GOOD apples available throughout the United States since I was a kid? Unbelievable. Just... the worst apple you can find in a supermarket today is better than the best you could have found when I was a kid.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: the_siobhan
2015-12-22 03:18 am (UTC)
Tomatoes, on the other hand, have gone to shit.

I know it's not just selective memory because I get a chance at heirloom tomatoes occasionally and they are lovely.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2015-12-22 03:49 am (UTC)
By the time i was born, the only tomatoes you could get in supermarkets were mealy and tough beefsteak tomatoes, and cherry tomatoes. If you wanted a good tomato, you had to grow it yourself.

Of course, today, if you want a good tomato, you STILL mostly have to.grow it yourself or go to a farmstand, but they now sell more-or-less edible tomatoes in supermarkets. You can get okay-ish plum tomatoes, and the greenhouse-grown on-vine tomatoes are downright passable.

I count the ability to get mediocre tomatoes in supermarkets to be a big step forward.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2015-12-22 05:42 am (UTC)
The smaller the supermarket-acquired tomato, the better the taste, in my experience. I only ever buy cherry and grape tomatoes now, unless it's from a farmstand.
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[User Picture]From: browngirl
2015-12-22 07:51 am (UTC)
Both I and Cook's Illustrated agree with you.
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[User Picture]From: the_siobhan
2015-12-22 12:38 pm (UTC)
Here the divide seems to be between supermarkets and the little local street grocers - small shops buy from the Ontario Food Terminal so for anything that's grown locally it's harvested ripe and you're more likely to get varieties that don't particularly travel well. The big chain markets want to buy in bulk, so that tends to be from big agri-businesses that ship from California and Mexico.

That's changing, mind you. People started getting pissy about living in a province with massive amounts of farmland and only being able to buy locally grown food at farmer's markets so most supermarkets now have a "grown in Ontario" shelf in their produce section. They still seem to have to charge twice what the small grocers do, which is an interesting reversal of what I normally expect to happen.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2015-12-22 05:41 am (UTC)
Ditto for strawberries. Small ones grown on small farms: lovely. Anything you can get in the supermarket: basically worthless.
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[User Picture]From: yardlong
2015-12-22 10:38 pm (UTC)
I agree. We buy heirloom tomatoes regularly, which isn't too easy because most of them are beyond soft - but we manage anyway.

I'm with xiphias on grapefruit, and like ruby red. I go on applesauce kicks by buying bags of organic fuji apples and transforming them into raw applesauce in a VitaMix, nothing added.
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[User Picture]From: yehoshua
2015-12-22 03:37 am (UTC)
WRT grapefruit, a lot of that change is due to very aggressive selective breeding after the big freeze in the RIo Grande Valley in '82-'83. We used to have some sweetish cultivars that didn't get a lot of commercial love because the yellow variety were easier to grow. But they also seem to be more susceptible to frost damage. So after '83, which killed off thousands if acres of citrus on both sides of the Rio Grande, varieties like Ruby Red took hold. They're apparently marginally hardier, and they sell better because they aren't as tart.

I actually miss the tart variety sometimes. We used to have a few trees in the yard, and we did eat the out of hand.

Working from memory here, so there may be some slop in the timing and/or the chemistry.
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[User Picture]From: alexx_kay
2015-12-22 04:12 am (UTC)
Don't you know you're supposed to *complain* about how things are different since your childhood? The Curmudgeon Society will take away your cane-shaking privileges :-)

When I was young, you needed tools to open an orange. Now teeth suffice -- but clementines are easier still.
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[User Picture]From: gansje
2015-12-22 05:05 am (UTC)
I've recently found dragon fruit, quinces, Meyer lemons, and ugli fruit at the local otherwise-not-very-inspiring, not-very-gourmet supermarket. Also, at Whole Foods, I found some kind of fruit that looked like a benign, blushing Cthulhu (soooo many tentacles). I cannot remember the name, but I do remember thinking, "never seen THAT before," and "what the heck do I even do with this thing?"

It's really cool how many different options we have, and how much better our food is than when were little.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2015-12-22 05:43 am (UTC)
The tentacle thing might have been a Buddha's hand citron:

a heap of tentacular citrons

They're ugly as all get out, but they taste delicious.
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[User Picture]From: gansje
2015-12-24 12:30 am (UTC)
That's definitely it!! What do you make with them?
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2015-12-24 12:35 am (UTC)
Anything you'd make with a regular citron. I think browngirl has some recipes.
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[User Picture]From: browngirl
2015-12-27 07:06 am (UTC)
*blushes delightedly* Thanks for name checking me. An awesome conversation has subsequently been had. :D
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2015-12-27 07:13 am (UTC)
Oh good, glad that worked out!
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[User Picture]From: browngirl
2015-12-22 07:52 am (UTC)
Quinces! I am always happy when I find someone who knows what they are and how wonderful they are.
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[User Picture]From: sarianna
2015-12-22 08:42 pm (UTC)
Quinces are amazing. Our co-op has them (and 50+ varieties of heirloom apples) every year, they are amazing.
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[User Picture]From: gansje
2015-12-24 12:32 am (UTC)
Quinces are marvelous! I'm going to try David Lebovitz's poached quince recipe, but might also try to make quince and cardamom jam. I'm not sure how well it'll turn out, though.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2015-12-22 12:40 pm (UTC)
If it is a Buddha's hand/Buddha's palm, it doesn't have any flesh in it. You use it for the zest and peel. They smell wonderful, and add an intense lemony-citrus flavor.

Personally, I call it a "Cthulhu etrog."
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[User Picture]From: gansje
2015-12-24 12:29 am (UTC)
I think that's it! And I love your term, "Cthulhu etrog." A Cthulhu etrog it is.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2015-12-22 05:50 am (UTC)
I'm always astonished by the availability of raspberries and strawberries in winter. I mean, they're not great, but they're there.

The variety of apples is tremendous. I'm so glad that Galas and Macouns are now as easy to find as those nasty mealy things they call "Delicious" apples. Oddly, there hasn't been much change in pears that I've noticed, and it's been a while since I've had a really excellent pear.

Diverging slightly from fruit, I've been bowled over recently to learn that there now exist frozen vegetables that aren't terrible. When I was growing up, my mother taught me to eat fresh veg and only fresh veg--nothing frozen, nothing canned. I assume most canned vegetables are still pretty awful, though I'll cheerily throw canned baby corn and bamboo and water chestnuts into a stir fry, but wow, frozen vegetables can be really high quality and cook up well without turning into mush! I keep feeling like I'm betraying the values I was raised with or something, but the convenience and quality are hard to pass up.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2015-12-22 12:39 pm (UTC)
Frozen vegetables have always been better than canned ones, ever since Birdseye came up with the plan, but, yeah, flash-freezing has taken it up a huge level. Flash-frozen vegetables seem to cook up at least 90% as well as fresh vegetables, maybe 95%. Sure, if you're doing something where you're only slightly cooking a vegetable, like wilting spinach or lightly steaming broccoli, the frozen ones won't work, but if you're going to be putting it in a quiche or putting it on top of a pizza, or something like that, I'd never be able to tell the difference.

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[User Picture]From: crewgrrl
2015-12-22 02:23 pm (UTC)
You can still get Red Delicious apples in stores. They're not better than cardboard.
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[User Picture]From: xiphias
2015-12-22 07:02 pm (UTC)
"Not Better Than Cardboard" is the name of my next indie band.
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[User Picture]From: yehoshua
2015-12-22 10:17 pm (UTC)
Is this going to turn into one of those gags, like Better Than Ezra having an opening act called Ezra?
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