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Top 10 Ways To Use Cheap Bin Finds

2011 April 20

by Jessie Chien

Bruised-ApplesMost market stands have one bin tucked off to the side full of bruised, deformed, and overripe produce.  Bruised apples, squishy tomatoes, and wilting flowers can actually prove to be the best finds – not only in terms being a budget-friendly delight, but they also serve to remind us of the flexibility and benefits of good food. Below you will find RecipeRelay’s Top 10 Ways To Use Cheap Bin Finds at your local market (also called, Top 10 ways to use your market bounty after it’s been sitting in the kitchen for a week).

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Note: Always take care in selecting produce.  We do not recommend anything that is overly past its prime, so please use your best judgement in determining the shelf life of overripe produce. A little bruise and soft spot is fine, mold and funky smells are certainly not.

  1. Bread. Obviously, we go to the market and to our local bakery to find the best, freshest bread available.  When I was working in Manhattan, I would run out of work on Wednesday evenings hoping to catch the vendors packing up at the Union Square Greenmarket.  Bread would be the last thing I could count on finding- most fresh loaves were snagged within the first several hours of the market opening. But sometimes, I would be lucky enough to find a loaf or two left.  Having been sitting outside for 12 hours, I figured, why not let it sit out a little more?  Older bread, left out on the counter for a couple days, can be the perfect base for the best croutons, the crunchiest breadcrumbs, and the tastiest panzanella salad.
  2. Avocados.  Avocados seem to take forever to ripen, then in an instant become overripe.  It’s nature’s evil side, I swear. Rather than eating a browned, mushy avocado, I advise mixing crushed avocado with a couple of spoonfuls of natural oil, or sugar and honey, and smearing it on your face or hair for a holistic moisturizing mask.  Here’s a recipe I found online for a seemingly edible beauty treatment.
  3. Beets. I would certainly not recommend eating beets which are past their prime – once these root vegetables begin to go, I find they possess a dusty, dirt-y flavor that I cannot enjoy, no matter how much goat cheese I try to pair them with. Laura Ferguson, the crafting goddess behind FerguStuff, recently used beets in a way that we often do unintentionally – as a dye. For older beets, roast them and slice them up into large chunks, line your sink with a garbage bag, and soak your scarf, your old t-shirt, or your cat in beet dye overnight for a bright red glow the next morning.
  4. Peaches.  Peaches are a great example of how texture affects our tastes.  A mealy peach, however sweet and ripe it is, is the pits. During the summer, bruised peaches are a popular find in the cheap bin. To take advantage of the sweet and simple flavor of slightly over-ripe yet imperfect peaches, blend with plain yogurt and make a peach lassi, like Cathy Erway did on her popular blog, Not Eating Out in New York. That’s it. No need to disguise a pure peachy flavor with anything else.  Peach ice cream is an equally delightful option for using up peaches that are past their prime.
  5. Plums.  Everyone likes party favors. When I throw a legitimate dinner party, I like to let my guests leave with a little treat- and since a dinner party is all about eating, why not an edible treat? Two years ago I really got into making compotes – informal jams that I would give away at every opportunity, partially because I liked to make them often, and partially to avoid doing any actual canning in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen. Throwing defective and bruised plums into a large pan with some sugar, water, a couple of cinnamon sticks and orange peels takes virtually no work, and almost no cost.  It produces a wonderful result which your friends will also be sure to appreciate.
  6. Flowers.  Markets usually keep their best flowers out for show, but sometimes you will come across wilting flowers that you can bargain down to a ridiculously low price.  But what to do with these flowers?  You can only hang so many upside down, and only have so many encyclopedias to press the petals between. I would recommend digging out your mother’s old potpourri pot, mixing the flowers with citrus (old citrus!) and setting them in the corner of your living room – the fragrant aromas of fresh, slightly-wilted market flowers will perk up any household!
  7. Tomatoes.  A long time ago before I knew any better, I would simply toss old tomatoes into the garbage can.  During tomato season at the market, these are the most popular items in the cheap bin, as tomatoes are quick to over-ripen and susceptible to bruising. I like to take home as many as I find (make sure you bring a plastic bag- there will be much more juice from these tomatoes than their fresher sisters), cut off the bruised and battered parts and continue as you normally would to make a flavor-blasting tomato sauce (any wilting basil can also be tossed into the pot).  The overripe tomatoes will create a flavor that is out of this world, and making a huge pot means any leftovers can be frozen for later pizza and lasagna making!
  8. Lemons.  My friend Gillian has a blog which documents what she does with the bounty from her ever-so-prolific lemon trees in her California backyard. Though not all of us have this ‘problem’, her blog is a great resource for how to use up extra lemons.  Lemon peels are pretty hardy, so if you find lemons discarded because they are beginning to shrivel or have been half-eaten away, I would recommend giving what remains a good scrubbing before you use them. Following this recipe, dehydrate the peels and blend with salt to create a citrus spice that will be able sit on your shelf for much longer than a fresh lemon would.
  9. Apples.  As with tomatoes, apples are a common find in the cheap bin at the market.  Not for their ease of bruising or quick shelf-life, but simply due to the sheer quantity of apples in the Fall – with bushels of apples at the market, there are bound to be defective ones available.  The fact that it takes a looooong time before an apple turns inedible is a plus for us market scavengers, and what is not good fresh is frequently good cooked.  The obvious thing to do with a bruised apple is to make apple pie, but for a more experimental culinary project, I would recommend trying something with a little more pizzaz – like this recipe for apple butter, courtesy of Turntable Kitchen.
  10. Grapes.  Old grapes are great – after all, they make wine.  But what about not-quite-as-old grapes that also aren’t quite-so-fresh? I am a strong proponent of everyone making grape sorbet at least once in their lives.  It’s a little bit of a process, but once you taste the punchy flavor of grape sorbet, I guarantee you won’t be thinking of how sticky your hands are or why there are reddish-purple stains all over your backsplash. Fresh grape sorbet – especially if you use a variety such as the concord grape – has a flavor that takes me back to my childhood, without all the artificial flavorings that were actually in the grape snacks of my childhood.

Next time you are at the market, don’t be intimidated by the cheap bin! Take a peek inside and see what treasures you may be able to salvage.  Leave a comment below and let us know some of your favorite ways to breathe a second life into over-ripe fruits and vegetables.


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  • Katherine

    My Fellow Relayers,
    Don’t discount the use of these overripe, not so pretty fruits and veggies. If you haven’t noticed, the cosmetic companies are charging incredible prices for “natural” cosmetic products!!!! So, go ahead and put those mushy strawberries and peaches in your past prime yoghurt and smear it on your face for an amazing facial…..take those lemon rinds and rub them on your arms and legs for an incredible skin anti-oxidant… motto….”if you can’t eat em’- wear ‘em!!!!” There are a gazillion websites for do it yourself natural cosmetic products…..go for it, y’all!!!!!

    • Briannambain

      What a great idea Katherine! I forget about all the benefits of putting your food directly on your skin. Thanks for the reminder.