Well as the chief rescuer, I have just spent a long weekend drowning in strawberries. Through the generosity of Walker's Own - a BC fruit grower, we have been gifted with fruits that are not suitable for sale because of bruising and stem pokes or other mars. We rescue these at the end of each market day. Then there sometimes are boxes of fruit that will not keep until the next market due to heat or rain at the markets, or they are just at the end of their market life. As we all know, once one berry in a box starts to rot it does not take long until the whole box follows suit. So every once in a while, in spite of best planning, fruit vendors have boxes that have not sold that week and cannot be saved until the next market. This happened over the July long weekend and I eagerly agreed to take a large pile of flats of strawberries that were ready for 'rescue' as you can see in the photo.
As a rescuer I can not say no. I am so aware of the time and energy put into tending and growing the plants as well as the hands that picked and packed the berries. In my mind I could see the pickers putting some of those big or quirky shaped berries into the box and imagining the joy they would bring to the consumer. Then there are the truckers who loaded and hauled them knowing that they had a fragile and time sensitive load. And finally the vendors who pulled them into their coolers and prepared them for market. There had been a lot of hard work already invested in these berries and I felt the weight of honouring those deeds and intention. It is such a loss - financially, as well as time and energy if they just go to the garbage without a last try.
So with this legacy on my mind I wanted to do my best to 'rescue' these berries. So I packed the flats into my little Honda and headed off to the kitchen. I called my cooks to see if they could help but they had followed my instructions and were having a long weekend off!!! So there I stood by myself with a large pile of berries slowly deteriorating. How does one tackle a big problem - one piece at a time. So I focused on each box and threw out anything that was rotten and all of its neighbours. Then with the good berries, I washed them, removed the stem and threw them in a steam juicer. (Of course our freezer in the kitchen was already full and I didn't have time to take them to our back-up freezers that were across town). With fruit rescue, time is of the essence. My challenge was to stay focused on the task and prevent my eyes from wandering over to look at the tall pile of flats that also demanded my attention. Slowly and steadily I worked my way through about 1/2 of the pile before I just had to go to bed. The next morning, a smaller pile awaited me but they had mostly moved along towards deterioration. I wanted to cry at the loss but the arrival of Al, another of the founders of Fruits of Sherbrooke, gave me support to rescue what was still usable and help me let go of the rest. We composted what we could and then bagged the rest knowing that the city of Edmonton composts all organic waste so it has not gone to landfill.
What was the outcome? We have over 50 Litres of wonderful strawberry juice that is sealed and ready for the final inspiration - and that will be out in a couple of weeks. I have also learned that I am not able to do this on my own any more as we could potentially get bigger donations of fruit for rescue. So we are organizing to have assured access to a kitchen every weekend in the summer and staff at the ready. We are learning and growing with each experience and, once we get through it, we appreciate the honour that vendors are recognizing that we can be the final step in the vending cycle.
Stay tuned - there will be more stories I am sure.
Carol - chief cook with strawberry stains everywhere.