An Accidental Food Freegan

There's an organic grocer in town that daily gives away bags of free vegetable & fruit trimmings, first-come first-served, from a bin out back. Ostensibly, these trimmings are meant for composting. I started picking up one or two bags during the once-a-week trip into town for supplementing our chicken, duck & goose feed. The birds have many likes (lettuces of all kinds, Lacinto kale, watermelon rinds, etc.), and some dislikes (curly kale, some cabbages, carrot peels). I set aside for compost the things they won't eat or aren't good for them, like raw onions, or things that would require too much processing to make chewable, such as broccoli stalks. These free trimmings are well worth the effort to sort and are a boon to the animal feed budget, not to mention the compost pile. The fact the majority of the trimmings are organic is a huge plus as well.

Not from the compost bag, but were leftover
from a recent recipe: Organic Meyer Lemon rinds
being made into limoncello, a lemon liquore. 
Many times I've looked at a bag's contents and thought "dang, that looks good enough for human consumption". Then I started reading "An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace" by Tamar Adler. In one part of the book, she talks about using parts of the vegetables most folks throw away, such as broccoli and cauliflower leaves and stalks. Radish greens. Heck, the castoff parts of almost all vegetables. Her book, and a recent gift from the produce guy, is making me eye all of our "compost" produce a little differently.

The other day, the produce guy was taking a break out back where the compost bag bin is located. I pulled up to load the back of the car, and he offered to help lift the bag (bless him and gratefully accepted, sometimes a bag can weight over 50 lbs). He then says "hey, you like bananas, right?" He grabs a box of slightly overripe bananas off the dock and puts it into my arms, telling me how people won't buy bananas once they start getting dark spots. I thank him profusely - while silently wondering what bleep I was gonna do with all those bananas - and put the case in the car. I gave away as many bunches as I could to people I ran across during the remainder of errand running - strangers and friends alike - then came home and started researching what to do with the half case of bananas still remaining. Goodness knows I wasn't gonna cook them all in one evening, and although I subsequently discovered our chickens also like bananas, they weren't gonna put a dent in them very quickly either. Found out what many folks already know: bananas can be frozen with no ill effects. There's now five gallon-sized zip-bags of sliced and whole peeled bananas in the deep freeze. Some will go into breads, some into smoothies, and some will end up as chicken treats.

Some beneficiaries of the grocery store's largesse.
A second trip into town this week, and stopped by the store once more. Besides a goodly bunch of lettuce (and the ubiquitous onion and carrot peels), there were also tied bunches of daikon and red radish tops, recently divested of their roots. Once home, I carefully washed the tops and ate a leaf of each. The daikon greens were mild and crunchy. The red radish had a slightly spicy bite, but still tasty. I gave a bunch of both to the geese to try, and unfortunately for me, they chomped down with relish. Next time, the birds & I will split the radish greens - I can see using these in a fresh salad, or lightly sauteed with some poached eggs on top. There were also a couple of bunches of spearmint - some bunches had a few wilted stems, probably from the bottoms not touching water in the produce storage case. Washed, trimmed up the ends and placed into a cup of water to rehydrate (just like reviving wilted cut flowers). Once it's obvious which leaves are still good to use, I'm thinking about chopping and freezing in ice cube trays to later put into iced tea.

More goodies in the bag: celery bottoms & leaves, which have been washed, peeled & frozen for soup stock. HabaƱero peppers that were just starting to spot - threw them into the compost bin a little too quickly, have since found out that chickens can eat hot peppers with none of the problems we mammals have, and are reputed to be a vermifuge to boot. Cabbage leaves, also washed and will be sauteed for dinner tonight. Broccoli and cauliflower stalks, which I didn't process this time, but for sure next time. One of Ms. Adler's suggestions for stalks are peeling & boiling until tender then, processing in a food grinder. Use the results like a tapenade on bread or stir into soup.

Experimenting with food "castoffs" - either from the grocery store giveaway, or from re-examining my own habitual shopping & cooking - is exciting, and will be a continuing adventure. I do promise, however, to Spouse, friends and family members that I will not feed them "found food" without prior notification and consent. Scout's honor.

[Related: the other week watched an interesting documentary entitled "Dive! Living Off America's Waste". You can view it online at Netflix. Will also make you look at food differently.]


  1. Awesome!! I used to dumpster dive many moons ago but then the areas our group visited became locked and I didn't want to get arrested. :(
    So nice that the scraps are given to you and you are finding so many uses for the produce. :)

    1. Bummer about the locked bins. I know they do it for liability reasons, but still, damn shame about all the waste that could be put to good use :-(

  2. At one point we had so many bananas in the freezer that I had to train myself to walk by the discount produce rack with eyes averted. But $1 for a sack of bananas was just too good to resist!

  3. WRT to broccoli stems, I like to peel them. The soft center is delicious and cooks easily. I will peel the sough skin, then slice the center and cook it with the rest of the broccoli. I only do this with the thick central stem, though, because all the tiny stems are too much work to peel. Those I just use for stock.

    I use broccoli/cauliflower leaves just like a collard green, I will toss them into a saute or whatever, but they are usually few in number so I usually just give them to the turtles.

    Here is how I am about to cook the radishes I got in my box this week (it uses the greens):

    Braised Purple Radishes
    adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

    20 plump purple or red radishes
    1 to 2 Tablespoons butter
    2 stalks green garlic, cleaned as you would a leek and chopped, use all the light green part
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
    S & P to taste

    Trim the leaves from the radishes, leaving a bit of the green stems, and scrub them. Wash the leaves and set aside. Leave smaller radishes whole and halve the larger ones.

    Melt 2 to 3 teaspoons of the butter in a small saute pan. Add the shallot and thyme and cook for 1 minute over medium heat. Add the radishes, a little salt and pepper, and water just to cover. Simmer until the radishes are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the leaves and cook until they're wilted and tender, 1 minute more. Remove the radishes to a serving dish. Boil the liquid, adding a teaspoon or two more butter if you like, until only about 1/4 cup remains. pour it over the radishes and serve.

    And here is what I would do if I had a lot of radish greens, like you may again:

    Radish Top Soup

    6 Tb butter
    1 cup chopped onions or leeks
    8 cups loosely packed radish leaves
    2 cups diced peeled potatoes
    6 cups liquid (water, chicken stock)
    1/2 cup cream (optional)
    Freshly ground pepper
    Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan, add onions or leeks, and cook until golden, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in radish tops, cover pan, and cook over low heat until wilted, 8-10 minutes.
    Meanwhile, cook potatoes until soft in liquid along with 1 teaspoon salt. Combine with radish tops and broth, and cook, covered, for 5 minutes to mingle flavors. Puree finely in a food processor. Add cream if desired. Season to taste with butter, salt and pepper.


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