This morning I spent over an hour at my favorite produce market scavenging for discount produce and came home elated with my finds. I have read on some websites and in some books on canning that buying produce from these racks is not advised because the quality of the product might not be as good. This has not been my experience. I try to be discerning in my choices and not make impulse buys just because the produce might be dirt cheap. Today I would consider my best day ever as far as finding the best in quantity, quality, and variety.
My first stop was the discount corner. There you’ll find a large make-shift table out of empty produce boxes topped with 1/2-full to 3/4-full flats of produce pulled from the floor stock that is no longer considered first-rate. Each box is $2.00 regardless how full it is. Most of the time when I get there I’ll find a box or two with some unrecognizable vegetable that is wilting and brown. Occasionally though I come at just the right moment and might find a box of apples or oranges.
This morning I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw several flats of strawberries on the table. Each flat held eight 1-pound containers. There were several people clustered around the table, so I pushed my cart to the side and waited until they were done. Unbelievably only one of the people took a flat, leaving three complete flats on the table for me to look at. Quickly glancing at the contents of the plastic clam-shells I noticed a few moldy strawberries, but for the most part everything looked good. I put two flats on the bottom of my cart.
Next, across from the discount table there’s a metal discount rack. Items on this rack are $1.00 a bag or $.69 a quart. The rack was empty except for four honeydew melons. A man picked up one of the melons and put it in his cart leaving three for me to think about. They were $1 each. Not sure exactly what I’d make with them I thought, “For $3.00 it’s worth taking them.” So into my cart they went.
When I arrive at the market in the morning, the staff can be found sorting through large bins of fresh fruit, throwing bruised fruit into boxes in their carts and tidying up the remaining salable fruit. I watch them as they fill their boxes while I stroll around the store in search of great sales. Today I didn’t really need anything other than what I could find discounted, so for 30 minutes I walked around carefully eyeing what was being pulled.
In watching the process of fruit being pulled, I noticed that several people were going right up to the men pulling the fruit and asking for the boxes. The men would give them the box and then grab another box from the floor and start filling that one. Seeing these boxes disappear into carts with no chance of seeing them in the discount corner, I decided to take a shot at getting my own box.
Near the front of the store there was a large bin of lemons marked 2 for $1.00. There a man was patiently picking through the fruit, squeezing each lemon to see if it was firm, tossing soft ones into a box, and filling the bins on the table with the good fruit. I made several passes with my cart trying to get up my nerve to ask for a box but was beat to it by an older man. Figuring I’d better suck it up or leave I walked over and struck up a conversation with the worker. I asked him if I was able to ask for a box of discarded fruit or how I would go about getting one. He told me that he would gladly give me the next box he pulled. For 30 minutes I stood and talked to him as he pulled lemons from the table and put them in what was soon to be my box. In the end, I had more than 20 lemons, all for $2.00. I thanked him profusely and headed to the cashier.
On my way out, I decided to give the discount table and rack one more pass, and found two quarts of jalapeno peppers, two quarts of okra, and two quarts of mushrooms. Also, I passed the strawberry table where a worker was pulling more strawberry boxes for the discount table. Seeing that one was full, I asked if I could have it. Gratefully I put it in my cart.
How awesome is that! I ended up with 24 pounds of strawberries for $6.00, a box of lemons for $2.00, 3 melons for $3.00, and 6 quarts of various vegetables for $4.20. What a haul! Now the work begins. Strawberry-lemonade concentrate, strawberry-kiwi lemonade concentrate, pickled jalapeno, frozen okra, dried mushrooms, and maybe some honeydew jelly, jam, or syrup. I am without a doubt — Simply Grateful.