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Cobbler Cure – Doctor’s Orders

2014 July 1

By Thomas O’Donnell

It might seem odd to get excited over apple or strawberry cobbler, but this batch touched a special chord. I work in EPA’s Philadelphia office on sustainability and food waste issues. I’ve been trying to find new ways to avoid throwing good food into landfills as part of the agency’s Food Recovery Challenge.  The National Resources Defense Council reported that fruits and vegetables make up the largest type of food going to waste from retail stores, 22 percent, in fact.  That could easily be more than 14 million pounds of fresh fruit in Philadelphia alone.

Picture of two chefs working in the kitchen

I brought one of the challenge participants, the produce team from Brown’s Parkside Shop-Rite supermarket in Philadelphia, together with Drexel University’s Culinary School. The school’s culinary director and a student were anxious to help and try something new.  The school’s mantra in situations where food is heading out the back door is to transform it into healthy, delicious meals. After we got to the store and talked about food recovery options, the folks from Shop-Rite took us to the produce section where they pulled some fruit that had minor imperfections that shoppers were not likely to purchase. A couple of cartons of strawberries and apples went back to the culinary school where the students worked on the challenge of turning what might have been trash into treasure. The next morning, I had six recipes in my email inbox, with the pictures of the cobbler you see included in this blog.  (The Shop-Rite folks were the lucky ones who got to enjoy this special treat.)

Picture of a cobbler in a pan.

It’s just cobbler, right?  True, but Drexel and Shop-Rite launched a successful experiment in food research that took slightly bruised or not perfectly shaped fruit that was destined for a compost pile, or a trash compactor and transformed it into delicious cobblers. They also created half-a-dozen recipes for things like applesauce and jam. How many times could this be done by someone who wants to make fresh meals for local food pantries or shelters?  Could this be a new opportunity for a local business?  The experiment has social and environmental benefits – great food for those in need and less food-waste sent to landfills where it becomes methane, a powerful greenhouse gas linked to climate change. Fruits and vegetables are among the most difficult foods to repurpose to feeding needy people – a goal near the top of EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy.  This small experiment showed how to create delicious alternatives to disposal, and it was quick and fun. Being part of this little experiment was a blast. And, be assured that we’re going to do more research. Stay tuned!

Cooked cobbler on a plate.

About the author:  Thomas O’Donnell (NAHE) is a Sustainability Coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Region of the USEPA specializing in the Food Recovery Challenge Program.  He received a PhD in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia. Tom was one of the originators of the Urban Model for Surplus Food recovery, which is piloting in west Philadelphia. He also teaches at Philadelphia University while developing open, online courses on food systems and sustainability.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Cindy permalink
    July 1, 2014

    Can you share the recipes?

  2. Nick permalink
    July 1, 2014

    Awesome!!!

  3. Anonymous permalink
    July 2, 2014

    Please share the recipes!

  4. chris campana permalink
    July 2, 2014

    Please share the recipes!

  5. Tom O'Donnell permalink
    July 2, 2014

    All of the recipe credit goes to Ally along with the support of the Drexel University team . By the way, we presented this idea at an international conference on solid waste management and Ally prepared some more cobbler from another batch of bruised apples donated by Brown’s Shoprite. My talk was early in the morning; the cobbler was a great hit.

    By: Alexandra Zeitz, Drexel University, Culinary Arts & Food Science

    Apple Sauce
    6 apple, core removed, diced
    2 cups sugar
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1 tbsp cinnamon

    In a small pot place apples, sugar, lemon juice and sugar. Turn on the heat and cook until the apples are soft about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and run the sauce through a food mill so the peels are separated from the sauce.
    Serve.

    Strawberry Jam
    2 lb strawberries, stems removed
    1 lb sugar
    ½ cup lemon
    In a small pot place strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and cook until the strawberries are broken down and the mixture has thicken. Remove from the pot and store in a jar.

    Apple Cobbler
    10 apples, sliced
    3 cups brown sugar
    3 tbsp cinnamon
    ¼ cup lemon juice
    Topping
    1 loaf of bread
    1 cup butter, diced
    ½ cup sugar

    In a large bowl mix the apple, brown sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. In a food processor add the bread and pulse to breakdown the bread into pieces about the size of peas. Slowly add the butter with the food processor running. Then add the sugar and pulse to combine. The topping is finished when the butter is combined with the bread.

    Grease a half hotel pan. Place the apples in the pan in an even layer. Crumble to topping on top of the apples. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes so the topping can brown.

    Strawberry Cobbler
    4 lb strawberries, stems removed, halved
    3 cups sugar
    ¼ cup lemon juice
    Topping
    1 loaf of bread
    1 cup butter, diced
    ½ cup sugar

    In a large bowl mix the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. In a food processor add the bread and pulse to breakdown the bread into pieces about the size of peas. Slowly add the butter with the food processor running. Then add the sugar and pulse to combine. The topping is finished when the butter is combined with the bread.
    Grease a half hotel pan. Place the strawberries in the pan in an even layer. Crumble to topping on top of the strawberries. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes so the topping can brown.

  6. David I permalink
    July 3, 2014

    I’ve tasted this apple cobbler at a conference back in April and it was fabulous! It would have been a shame if the ingredients that went into that cobbler would have been otherwise wasted….

  7. Dan Gallo permalink
    July 3, 2014

    Tom, what a great way to make use of food that would otherwise be thrown away. I’m getting hungry seeing those recipes!!

  8. Carrie permalink
    July 7, 2014

    Love the concept and I’m curious about your classes, but the recipes seem to use excessive amounts of sugar which is being implicated in many avoidable health problems from diabetes to alzheimers. The culinary school should work on using the produce in ways that promote healthful living. There are many studies that demonstrate sugar begets a desire for more sugar and may well be an addictive substance. Fruit–especially when its own sugars are allowed to carmelize — is good without being drowned in tons of sugar. Please encourage the culinary school to consider developing tasty food that is also good for whomever consumes it.

  9. Earle permalink
    July 7, 2014

    This is very inspiring. I hope more companies and folks focus on these types of actions which avoid waste and help others

  10. Cathy permalink
    July 29, 2014

    This is amazing! What a great use of God’s resources and the talent He has given to Tom and the others. Great job! and thanks for the recipes.

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