Cooking Hack: How to Pay Less for Produce

This one I actually owe to the BFF’s mom. She used to work in the produce department of a major supermarket out here. She wanted to learn how to can, we set a date for me to show her how I do it, and I asked her if she had something in particular in mind. She was a big gardener— I thought she might have a crop she wanted to work with.

She said she’d see what was available on the day of our canning adventures. I was leery about this— between buying jars and vinegar/salt/sugar/pectin/spices, canning gets pricey fast. If you’re also buying the product in volume, you’re paying way more to preserve your own stuff than you would pay per jar for jam or jelly off the shelf. And standing on your feet in a sweltering kitchen on top of it. She assured me she knew what she was doing.

We dropped by her store on the way. Now, as an employee, she was able to go in the back and get fruits they were going to discard— things that were a little banged up or overripe, but still usable—for cents per pound. It was a screaming good deal, and it appeals to my hippie spirit to use food that will otherwise go to waste for cosmetic reasons, but that is entirely safe.

I don’t have her kind of pull and can’t get behind the scenes to pick through the stuff they’re going to send to compost, but in my branch of her store, they have clearance racks for a variety of things— baked goods, etc., and one in the corner of the produce section for fruits and veggies.

You have no control over this resource— it’s just what they can’t sell— but recently, I scored pounds and pounds of flawless red, yellow, and orange peppers off that rack for a fraction of full price (they’re delicious in my pepper and onion relish), a bag of jalapenos, and a big bag of lemons and limes (the limes were awesome in my cherry-lime sourdough cake). You have to be willing to use the produce right away, before it turns, but if like mine last year, your garden mostly craps out or you don’t have a bumper crop of whatever you were expecting, this can be an affordable solution. And if, like me, you have a bit of an addiction to canning and/or baking, it can offer some savings to an expensive hobby.

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