Daniel Murphy Jr.
Almost without exception all Moms, Dads and all good restaurants wash all produce and fruits before consumption. Why is this and how did it start? It has been a practice for hundreds of years if not thousands but the most poignant lesson of this practice came in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s.
Large portions of Monmouth County were Quaker Farms growing produce, fruits, tomatoes, corn etc. The farmers would bring their produce loaded in wicker baskets to the Union House market on the river in Red Bank to be taken the New York Market by flat bottom sail boats.
At the Red Bank market were “River Women” who would set the prices the farmers wanted, travel on the sail boats to the New York market place and sell the produce there out of the wicker baskets. At this point the baskets were filled with horse manure collected from the streets of New York at that time and brought back to the Red Bank area farmers.
The River Women brought back news and gossip from New York, and would pay the farmers, the farmers would take the wicker baskets full of manure back to be used as fertilizer and refill the baskets with produce. It was common knowledge to everyone that the baskets were never washed. It was of course necessary to wash every piece of produce purchased anywhere in the New York area and thus started the tradition of washing produce at least in greater NY area from the late 1890’s on.
The US has some very high standards in the harvesting and shipping of foods and produce. During the winter with many items coming from outside of our country where we have no controls, we still have to keep the memory of those “baskets” in mind.