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Lettuce eat

Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 8/6/20

Sullivan County's farmers grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Most are very familiar to the consumer. However, with every growing season new varieties pop up complicating selections in the …

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Lettuce eat

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Sullivan County's farmers grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Most are very familiar to the consumer. However, with every growing season new varieties pop up complicating selections in the produce aisle.

For example, who is this guy named Rob and why are we suddenly eating his broccoli? It is bitter, chewy and too stringy to hold melted cheese. Years ago, food was much simpler. Broccoli and cauliflower were sold in bunches waiting for your mom to buy it, prepare it and then force you to eat it if you wanted any dessert. These days you need a road map to venture through the produce aisle.

Back in the days when baby boomers were hitting their teens, buying fruits and vegetables was easy. When your mother sent you to the grocery store for lettuce, there was only one choice…iceberg. Modern varieties such as endive, arugula, butterhead, batavia were not part of the produce aisle. You went to the grocery store to buy a head of iceberg lettuce. The lettuce was located right next to the tomatoes. The tomato selection was uncomplicated too. There only was one type…no cherry tomatoes, no beefsteak, no better boy existed. We only knew it as a tomato. You brought home to mom a head of iceberg lettuce and some tomatoes. She cut them up and put them in a bowl. Adding a slice of onion or an olive was saved for special occasions. Pouring on some salad dressing was the finishing touch. The choices were Russian dressing, French dressing and something called Thousand Island dressing. They all sounded exotic but in reality, they weren't made in Moscow, Paris or on an island. They were bottled in places like Newark, New Jersey and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Buying apples was easier too. You had a choice between Delicious and Macintosh. The Delicious apple was slightly sweeter than the MacIntosh. In today's world selecting an apple requires an advanced degree in horticulture. You can choose from among Pink Pearl, Winesap, Ambrosia, Cortland, Spinet, Gala, Macoun, Cameo, Rome and countless others. According to the Bureau of Fresh Fruits there are more than 2500 varieties in the United States, except for a Spinet which is not an apple but a smaller type of keyboard instrument like a harpsicord or piano.

Apples became popular in the United States around 1800 thanks to a wandering hobo known as Johnny Appleseed whose real name was John Chapman. He was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and land that became West Virginia. He wandered barefoot through the land planting seeds that were cared for by local farmers. These grew into orchards of trees bearing bough breaking apples. There was nothing fancy or unique about the apples. In fact, very few people ate them. They were not even grown to be eaten. Instead they were mashed, pressed and stored in barrels until it became hard apple cider. In rural America hard cider replaced wine, beer, coffee, tea, juice and even water as the beverage of choice. In a time when water was often a breeding ground for bacteria, hard cider offered a safe alternative. Besides, farmers found hitching a plow to a horse to till the soil more pleasurable with a buzz on.

The image of Johnny traipsing around the frontier dropping apple seeds all over the place is a fiction. He was much too clever for that. Instead, he traveled into the frontier well ahead of those venturing west who were hoping to claim a homestead. So, when a family arrived years later the apple orchids were ready for picking, for a price. Then Johnny headed further west to get ready for the next wave of dry-mouthed settlers.

In today's produce aisle you have hundreds of fruit and vegetables to select from. But what is that gelatinous square shaped white blob floating in that plastic container? That is Tofu. Tofu is a healthy alternative protein source for those who have given up eating meat. Tofu is prepared by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into solid white blocks of varying softness. It comes in four options known as silken, soft, firm, or extra firm. It is a relatively new food to Americans that has become extremely popular.

Actually, Tofu is not new having been made by accident in China over 2000 years ago. For years it was known as bean curd. For decades bean curd blocks sat uneaten in the American produce aisle. All that changed a few years ago when Phineas G. Ballard, Chairman of the Association of Impoverished Farmers, stood up at the local grange and said these immortal words. “Americans will never eat anything with the word curd in its name. We simply have to come up with a new name for this blob or we'll go broke”. Names such as bean meat, white mass and floating food were rejected. Finally, Ballard gave up and said, “This is totally futile”. He was ready to leave when someone in the back yelled, “That's perfect Mr. Ballard…totally futile. We'll call it Tofu!” And just like, under its new name it slid out of the plastic containers and onto your dinner plate.

Traditionally many children refuse to eat vegetables. Their young palates, accustomed to Skittles and Cheetos, just cannot tolerate the smell and taste of broccoli and cauliflower. So, with the knowledge that vegetables are a healthy alternative to Flintstone vitamins to provide proper nutrition for their kids, parents have resorted to stealth. They have developed recipes that hide vegetables in foods kids love. They sneak vegetables in food such as Black Bean Brownies, Hidden Veggie Sloppy Joes, beans in mac & cheese and even chickpea cookie dough dip. Children eat their vegetables unknowingly. It works until a child catches mommy forcing some mashed string beans into a tater tot. Then the only solution is to take Wilma out of the Flintstone jar and mix it into some Rocky Road Ice Cream.

Hudson Cooper is a resident of Sullivan County, a writer, comedian and actor.

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