Fruit is in the eye of the beholder

Last week was the first week of cucumbers from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. There is nothing quite like a vine fresh, picked that day cucumber. Cucumbers are one of the few vegetables that Jay will eat, so we gave him one with dinner.

The scifi night crowd is group of folks that love pedanticness and being right, more than most. It only took a minute for the statement “well, a cucumber is actually a fruit” to come out. The whole group was a bit fuzzy on the definition, though later wikipedia gave the most succinct one I’ve seen so far: a fruit is the ripened ovary—together with seeds—of a flowering plant (and yes, cucumbers, squash, and even nuts are fruit by that definition). We got pretty close to this definition by group think, which led to inevitably less appealing descriptions of what folks were eating, which I’ll leave to your imagination. Pedanticness aside, fruit is sweet, vegetables are savory, is probably as good a division as any. By this measure I’d still put tomatoes on the fruit side of the line, but then again, the definition is so loose that it’s about as useful as defining planets.

Cucumbers have almost no nutritional value, as they are mostly water, and they grow in about 7 days. Part of the reason that vegetables have such high contents of nutrients is because they take time to grow, and those nutrients take a while to fixate. There was recently a lot of news about that fact that modern vegetables are way less nutritious than those of 60 years ago, which isn’t entirely surprising given mass production in the industry, and the market incentives for speeding up production of vegetables for market.

But on the slow vegetable side of things, we’ve got the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, where Susan and I were picking cucumbers, lettuce, and beets this weekend for the Saturday pickup. After our work shift was over, we picked our own strawberries at the farm (if I wasn’t sold on the slow and organic approach to things, the taste of these strawberries would have made me a believer), and then headed off to a wild black raspberry (and apparently black berry) patch I found last year, that no one seems to pick. 2 quarts of black raspberries later, and a quick stop at the local farmers market for local wine, cheese, and blueberries, and we were home, with an incredible harvest of goods to eat.

As we were sitting out on the porch, nibbling on some berries, I started thinking about raspberries, black raspberries, and black berries. Most fruit is incredibly cultivated. Apples, for instance, are all clones, as it is the only way to ensure the same flavor. The precursor to corn is pretty incredible looking, and you’d never recognize it as such (there is a good Scientific American article about it from 3 years ago). But berries, especially wild berries, seem to be an exception. While there is some cultivation in strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, the wild varieties still exist and thrive, if you know where to look. I’ve got wild strawberries in my lawn, wild blueberries are easily found along many of the local hiking trails, and raspberries… well, they are out there, but I won’t tell you where, because we like picking them so much, and we are fortunate enough to live in an area where picking wild berries seems to be foreign to the minds of most people here. 🙂

Updated: better link on the vegetable nutrient decline.

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