Good groceries are free from artificial flavors or preservatives, they are the cornerstone of creating outstanding recipes. A chef, whom I was intimidated to cook her birthday dinner told me, “You use the freshest, seasonal ingredients so your cooking always tastes amazing.” A compliment I took for more of my shopping than culinary skills. Point well taken though, I realized that the produce I had chosen coupled with the pantry and dairy I buy was in as much part of the overall flavor layers than trying to use advanced techniques for coaxing flavor out of traditional ingredients.
Over and over, I still use the “Good Groceries” reason when I am complimented on my cooking.
Still, to define good groceries I will need to borrow two terms I am passionate to take back from the marketing firms who so freely use them, they have become almost meaningless. I have more to say about these terms in other postings, but for the consideration of brevity I will use “local” and “seasonal”. Why is it that produce from our own gardens tastes so good? Is the simple idea that growing our own food can be so rewarding that it improves our love of it or the flavor? If you have ever cut broccoli from your garden and eaten it within the hour? An ear of sweet corn going from stalk to flame? These are two examples I can think of that allow the freshness of a vegetable really shine. I have heard of an apple variety so sensitive that the time it is picked it begins to spoil before getting it to the kitchen (I would really like to try that apple). Once the vegetable is harvested, it immediately begins to deteriorate. A neighbor’s garden is local, and if you’re lucky enough to have a produce stand at a local farmer, that’s pretty good too. Farmer’s markets and better than supermarkets in freshness, but buyer beware. Many farmer’s market stands may be from over 100 miles away from where they are selling it to you. In our area we have an Amazon outlet formerly known as Whole Foods.
This past summer I wanted to buy peaches for a pie, it was June and I didn’t have time to drive all over the county looking for the fruit. I went to (insert local high-end chain grocery here) and found a display of “LOCAL-STONE FRUIT” clearly marketed with amazing signs. In their defense, the individual varieties were marked with pricing and the name of the farm. A quick internet search of the name of the farm resulted in finding out the farm was in Bakersfield, 316 miles away. I asked the produce manager about the signage and the products offered and he admitted this was, “mis-leading” and went on to explain it was a directive from their corporate office. The point to be noted is, the produce loses freshness the moment it is harvested and unless the product is engineered for shipment the distance travelled and the lag time before eating makes it important to know from where it has travelled. In the aspect of seasonality, fruits and vegetables can travel as far away as South America when our winter months are rich with other types of produce than those far reaching berries or tomatoes. Modern recipes will call for raspberries in February or apples in July (think apple pie and Independence Day). The truth is, those products are available and easily purchased, but should they? We’ve all had the obligatory slice of tomato on a burger when winter daylight and cold temperatures force the restaurant to use hot house growing techniques. What was your impression of that type of tomato? No one has EVER said, “Wow, that was a good tomato!”
Good groceries are foods that have substance and unequaled quality. They are delectable. They are fair. They are what Jupiter Foods will exclusively carry. But they are also socially responsible. A food company where employees are exploited or one who has used their dollars to politicize negative food systems cannot be part of the Jupiter Foods product line. Many organic companies donated various sums of money to defeat California Prop 37 to mandate GMO labeling. “What does an organic producer have to lose”, I wondered. Dig a little deeper, many of our trusted brands are owned by larger food producing companies who would hate to see the GMO label on their brands. We do this research, we scrutinize our suppliers with a rigorous vetting process, so we know these items are truly “Good Groceries.”