I’ve mentioned previously that I’m starting a business with a friend to reduce food waste. We’re going to make snacks from fruit (or veg, but starting with fruit) that would otherwise be thrown away. Since my last update, we’ve started experimenting with the concept and “getting our hands dirty” so to speak.
An initial run to New Spitafields Market
For our first discovery of wholesale markets, Mike and I decided to go to the New Spitafields, located in Leytonstone. Wholesale markets open during the night so we decided to venture out at around 1 am on a Friday. We were ripe with excitement, slightly innocent about what it would entail, and probably looking way too enthusiastic. Before heading out, I remember we both felt like kids waiting for new year’s eve. There’s something very exciting about discovering something completely new for the first time. After all, you’ll never be able to have that first experience again.
We spoke to some vendors about food waste, though you wouldn’t call it that in that environment. Slightly older or ugly fruit in that context is classified as “Grade B”. We didn’t buy anything though we could have gotten our hands on boxes of bananas at a hefty discount from “banana man.” That’s what one of his employees called him when we enquired about buying some bananas – “Banana man will be back in an hour” he replied.
We could have also picked up a boxes of pears, sadly abandoned at one side of the market, and boxes of avocados, melons, onions and pineapples all destined to get chucked away. But not having a dehydrator or any of the utensils needed to process the fruit, we decided this first visit would only be about knowledge gathering.
A subsequent number of runs to New Covent Garden Market
Since then, we’ve migrated our fruit harvesting operation to New Covent Market, mostly out of convenience – it’s located just by Vauxhall meaning we can both jump of our bikes (equipped with giant kite-surfing backpacks to carry produce home) at any time of the night. The first time we went there we actually ended up doing two visits in one night. The first was a failure as we quickly realised that no one was going to sell us “discounted fruit” so early in the trading day. So we packed up, went home, slept for 4 hours and headed back. That morning we came home with dozens of raspberry punnets and three random boxes of cherry tomatoes that I found by a bin (which were perfectly fine to eat – I still don’t understand why they were thrown away).
A first victory in making raspberry leather
With this big batch of perfectly ripe raspberries, we decided to make fruit leather. Arguably not the greatest way to describe it from a marketing point of view (who wants to associate food with leather?) but that’s what it’s officially called. After sorting through each raspberry individually and washing them, we blended them up, added a tiny bit of lemon juice and agave syrup… and in they went for dehydration! What came out roughly 10 hours later (it is a long process) was a succulent and intensely raspberry flavoured snack. We happened to have a few people over that night for dinner, being a great opportunity to run our first tasting group. All adored it, to the point of requesting samples to take home with them.
Mike & Ilana 1 – food waste 0.
A nasty encounter with papaya
Last week’s visit to the market saw us coming home with twelve papayas and kilos of blueberries. We discovered that if you blend blueberries together and let them sit for a bit, they turn into a weird kind of jelly. I googled this and found that blueberries contain a lot of pectin, a natural gelling agent. Learn something new every day!
To my regret, we also discovered what cooking papayas entails. Rather than blending them directly and laying them out on sheets to dehydrate, we decided to briefly cook them in a pot. That’s when the smell started. And continued throughout the gruesome dehydration process where my entire flat smelt of vomit. I also googled why papayas smell. Interestingly, if you type “why do you papayas smell like…”, Google suggests: “like feet, like crap, like smelly feet.”
In terms of the perfect texture for fruit leather, the papayas nailed it. They smoothly came off the baking paper and let themselves be rolled into small roll-ups. While they may have tasted ok, eating also involves smelling. And sadly, if something smells repugnant (whether it’s cheesy feet or vomit), you’re unlikely to enjoy it regardless of its taste. The most upsetting part of this cooking process was the papaya smell contamination of otherwise successful blueberry leather.
Food waste 1 – Mike & Ilana 0.
What we’re learning
That there are different challenges along the way. Berries might take forever to sort through but once that’s done, the rest is a piece of cake. Papaya, on the other hand, may have seemed easy to process and chop, but are a nightmare at the following stage. Certain fruit taste delicious when blended but less so when dehydrated. You have to be quick with blueberry, and mango is essentially the perfect fruit.
Most importantly, we’ve learnt to not speak of food waste anymore – rather calling food surplus. Because if there’s anything that these first few experiences have taught us, it’s that there are plenty of ways to turn what would otherwise seem like a lost cause into a delicious snack!
(You might ask what happened to the papaya: vast blended quantities of it are sitting in my freezer. While I can assure that papaya is not destined to be fruit leather, I think there’s strong potential to make some lovely, even if slightly smelly, jam. Those interested feel free to get in touch).