Unusual fruit salad and other Oddbox wonders

Pomelo, artichoke, fennel and passion fruit

The joy of finding something new and environmentally beneficial at the end of a troublesome year brings hope, enlightenment and a sense of fresh beginnings. And it has been very timely indeed.

I have mentioned Oddbox before. My first delivery was fascinating. I knew this home delivered (in the dead of night no less) fruit and vegetable package to be rescuing food that would otherwise fall out of the supply chain. Items are rescued from the UK and abroad. 

I wouldn’t have bought beetroot or melon at this time of year. I was certainly pleasantly surprised by purple carrots!

Oddbox doesn’t allow you to choose what arrives. What they can deliver entirely depends on what is available – that would be going to waste. But the choices of boxes do say how many types of vegetable or fruit will be contained within.

For example, a medium box contains five types of vegetable and four types of fruit. Boxes come in small, medium or large of this mix, or the same in just fruit, or just vegetables.

The company does tell you a few days in advance what will arrive. However, if they say “potatoes” they could be big or small. And if they say “lettuce” it might not be the one you’d normally buy. That’s all fair enough. Different types of items probably come from different parts of the country and it would be very time consuming for them to be totally specific. You’ll want to note the delivery date before doing a weekly shop, because you might not receive sufficient greens or your staple choice of fruit each week.

Or perhaps you’ll just decide to make do with what’s delivered. I’ve found the produce lasts pretty much the fortnight between deliveries – having chosen that option over weekly.

We’ve never eaten so many avocados, or aubergines. However, in my house we are more than delighted, on balance, to be helping to reduce the world’s food waste. Oddbox says a third of the world’s food produced goes uneaten.

What’s more, the Oddbox website and weekly emails are full of recipe ideas. You may or may not take them up, depending on how inventive you are already feeling about what to do with the items received. Simple ideas spring to mind, but for items with which you might be unfamiliar you might need a prompt. For me, expanding my palate is all part of the joy, the fun. It feels like a back-to-basics approach to living, in a more carbon friendly way when food has travelled less distance (generally speaking).

This week, for example, there was a simple solution to using the honey pomelo. It is bigger than a grapefruit but tastes more or less like one. I don’t remember ever eating one before. To this, I added apples, clementines and passion fruit, something we don’t normally buy. This fruit salad was therefore entirely made up of Oddbox fruit apart from the half a banana I also added.

The fennel that also arrived isn’t to my taste. I don’t like aniseed flavours. But my wife happily roasted and ate it. The Jerusalem artichokes will mean new cooking experiences. But the nutty flavour will go well with salads, stews and soups it seems, says the BBC. We made soup with turkey stock.

So Oddbox – rescuing what is available, not choosing just what we like – makes us think. It brings us fun in the kitchen, an excuse to explore new individual flavours and combined tastes in new dishes. In that sense, it is just like my anti-waste driven idea, back in summer, to find ways to use beetroot stems and leaves.

And the timely element? Well, with lorries queuing in their hundreds to return to France because of the Covid-19 crisis, Oddbox warns us that Brexit might well hinder rescuing supplies from the EU. In the short-term only, it hopes. Some items come from Spain and Italy and some from further afield outside Europe, such as Costa Rica or South Africa. What comes from where is detained on a weekly spreadsheet delivered with the produce.

Those items would have incurred a carbon footprint already – and that footprint would have been wasted without this act of rescuing.  But then, as Oddbox stresses, it has always prioritised rescuing excess food growth from the UK. They are as specific as to tell you that certain items have come from Essex, Kent, Bedfordshire, East Anglia or Cambridgeshire. 

The food might be blemished, or odd sizes. Think of those “wonky fruit and veg” sections in supermarkets. Then think, if a third of the world’s food is wasted, is that wonky items section a third of what is on display for sale? Not in my estimation. I’d calculate only a tenth of the shelve space is dedicated to these “imperfect” items.

And if items do come with “scarring” or imperfect skin, Oddbox is quick to explain and verify that it is edible. For example, it explained that some imperfect looking apples had simply had the wrong type of weather at the wrong time in early growth. I also know, as a vegetable growing gardener, that if my potato skins look cracked (blighted) once peeled there will be nothing wrong with them and this was simply down to a lack of water, or too much, at some stage.

So if all that is delivered isn’t cosmetically perfect enough for the supermarket to accept, it is because we have had the harmless blemishes airbrushed out. Just like those of us who don’t fit the idea of a supermodel perfect specimen, this fruit and veg comes in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps a better analogy is this: many of us don’t fit the boundaries of ‘normal sized’ clothing. 

Oddbox operates in the London and South East at present but rescues food from farms all over the UK. You just have to pop in your full postcode to their website and see if they deliver to you.

I am fascinated by two things.

Firstly, the impact, as detailed on their website: the food rescued (measured in kg), the carbon emissions prevented, the water saved. A recent communication told me they had saved 10 million killograms of food since setting up in 2016 – 8 million of it in the past year alone because of their huge expansion.

Secondly, for a little time invested in looking for new recipes, I love the sense of going back a step – rethinking how we live and our impact on the planet. That is, making the most of what is available, rather than simply choosing what we fancy from a supermarket shelf, grocer’s or market stall. 

If you are inspired to sign up, use this link for an introductory discount.