In a bid to cut down on grocery trips last year, I signed up for a community supported agriculture (CSA) box. Every Thursday, the produce arrives fresh as can be, usually unwashed and occasionally housing a live insect. The weekly unboxings are largely delightful, especially resplendent right now with winter citrus. But I dreaded the inevitable pileup of vegetables so dirty the beets were indistinguishable from the potatoes — until I remembered a tool from my childhood that we kept to polish the products of my dad’s garden: a vegetable scrubber.
Whether you’re getting grubby in your own garden or outsourcing through a CSA like me, a vegetable scrubber is essential to transforming mud-speckled plants into gem-like produce. Not much more than a wooden handle with some bristles, the vegetable scrubber I bought scrubs off grime brusquely, getting into all kinds of crevices and standing firm against the heartiest of dirt. Like a lot of unitaskers, it’s streamlined; its only purpose is to de-muck your parsnips and daikons, and it does it well.
I’ve incorporated the scrub-down into the whole CSA unboxing affair, the last step after packing away the perishables, arranging the fruit on my counter like a still life, and collapsing the box itself. Getting it all done ahead of time cuts down drastically on the barrier to entry for cooking, and I can use all the help I can get on that front. I don’t have to fuss with cleaning before I pull out my vegetables to chop, an aspect of cooking I find infinitely more satisfying. Plus, carrots are much less intimidating when they’re freshly scrubbed, splayed in a bowl like a fancy centerpiece, and I can better admire a medley of beets if I can actually see the reds and golds when I open the fridge. The old saying goes that you eat with the eyes first — I think sometimes you cook with them first, too.
In previous years, I was pretty cavalier about the cleanliness of my foodstuff; I’m the sort of person who’d wipe a grocery store apple on her shirt and call it clean. Increasingly, though, I regard my cleaning implements with a shadow of anxiety, concerned about cross contamination both internal and external. Now that I have this cheap tool in my kitchen holster, I no longer side-eye my past-their-prime dish sponges or worry about dirtying a fresh towel. I feel a surprising amount of relief knowing this brush will only ever clean the beautiful flesh of vegetables. However minor, it’s one less thing to worry about.
Jenna Stoeber is a writer, streamer, academic, and known lover of vegetables.