Ingredients 101: The Series

As spring leaves us and summer begins (ok, that was a month ago), it’s time yet again that the regional farmers’ markets fire up and appear on street corners and central squares.


Admittedly, I’d rather they didn’t shut down at 1:00 PM EST here in Cleveland where I live, as most said markets occur on Saturday and I’m not exactly all about getting to sleep early on a Friday night. Thus I wouldn’t call myself ambulatory by any means prior to noon.

That being said, just because it’s a farmers’ market doesn’t mean that you can’t get scammed. Hey, farms are a business too. They’re growing stuff to get people to buy it so they in turn may survive, not (always) out of the goodness of their hearts. They gotta sell the crap along with the Cristal.

In the past, it’s appalled me how few actually know what good ingredients look like, smell like, feel like, and taste like. Everyone should know what their food should these simple sensory inputs. But so few seem to.

Full disclosure: I’m a complete snob here.

I grew up with a father who’s favorite past-time was tending to a garden on the half-acre of land our once rural-burban house was situated on. I grew up on the freshest of vegetables: the bliss of sugar-snap peas and tomatoes still sun-warmed. I liked spinach because I didn’t know what canned or frozen spinach was – we didn’t eat it.

To this day, I love vegetables, based solely on the insanely high quality produce I knew as a kid. Broccoli that tasted sweet, because it hadn’t consumed it’s sugars by way of sitting on a shelf for a month. Bell peppers which resisted, rather than caved at your touch. Brussels sprouts taken from the stalk, just after the first frost which set the sugars properly. Beets. Holy crap the beets. I absolutely love all these things.

Ok, I admit it, I hate zucchini. Not so much I won’t eat it, but, there are better culinary sponges out there.


These are but a modicum of the wonders I grew up with.

Not only were they delicious, they taught me the proper feel, smell, season and flavor of what these products can and should be. Fresh, crisp, sweet. Sublime.

Yet, the more people I meet, the more I find no one knows the basics: an onion should be firm, like a baseball. A peach should smell of…well…peach. Everything, fruits, vegetables; they should feel heavy for their size.

I always thought we all knew these concepts instinctively. Turns out it was just because I knew the best from the get-go – and not the gas station (that’s funny to mid-westerners, just go with me on this).

In the following never-ending series (aaah-aaha-aaha-aaha) that I hope my fellow E-hos embark on with me, is a primer on how to pick proper food: vegetables, meats, fish, dairy, grains and greatness from other food groups (bacon?) yet to be found or that I forgot. This is information we all need to eat, and feed ourselves as a society.

Who knows, you may even find out you like that beet you hated as a kid.

I did.

5 comments to Ingredients 101: The Series

  • princesszyrtec

    I think you bring up a very good point – everything good in our lives we can thank our parents for, and all things that are denied to us we can castigate our parents for. It’s really a win-win no matter how you look at it…

    I also like how you referred to the inaugural posting on this site when referring to the glory of simple ingredients, warmed by the sun:

    …oh wait, you didn’t.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, I’m actually just jealous because my early experience with vegetables was either canned, or my dad’s bizarre insistence on not allowing any tomatoes to ripen, picking them at their greenest so he could fry them up (and more often than not burn them) in a pan.

    The only saving grace when it came to vegetables from my youth was the cucumber.

    I reaaaaaaaalllly love cukes.

  • gastrognome

    It’s like that with strawberries in Germany. Strawberries that are small, red all the way through, not too hard but not mushy…strawberries that taste like strawberries rather than Styrofoam.

    • princesszyrtec

      That reminds me to write a post about the summer my mom became domesticated….

      Also, please post any pics of deliciousness you’ve been having whilst in Germany.

      Thank you.

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