Abel and Cole mixed organic fruit and vegetable box

Filed in Product reviews by on February 12, 2009 22 Comments
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abel cole headerWhat perfect timing! I had just put some turkey in the oven and was scrounging around for vegetables when the doorbell rang. I’d quite forgotten that I was about to become the proud owner of my very own vegetable box.

Abel and Cole kindly sent me one of their organic fruit and vegetable boxes to review. I was even more exited because they don’t officially deliver in my area yet, so I’ve always missed out. Now I was able to get my mitts on a luscious box of glorious food and have a good old rummage.

But of course, it isn’t just about the quality of the food here at zero waste towers. Nope, the packaging has to pass our strict tests too. I was handed a cardboard box tied with string – so far so good. We opened it up and saw this:

abel and cole organic vegetable box

Wahee! Apart from a suspect piece of plastic for the tomatoes, all was well in this cardboard box of ours. But what a magnificent smell arose from the box – the smell of earth, of freshness, of vibrancy and just, ya know, REAL food. I soon forgot any questions about plastic punnets and got on with gawping and inhaling the smell of nature.

We all stood there unable to touch the goodies for a few moments; they looked so beautiful. I had a vegetable box scheme several years ago when they first came out and I think I lasted 3 weeks with them. Honestly, the stuff they gave me was the sort of thing I would feed pigs or chickens and I’ve always been very cautious since. (This was NOT Abel and Cole, I hasten to add!)

Abel and Cole, however, satisfied my picky nature with a selection of beautiful looking fruit and veg. Soily carrots, parsnips and potatoes nestled with a lettuce, bananas and apples.

Now being the anally retentive bird that I am, I did a little totting up. You see, when I tell people that we eat organically, they assume I have lots of disposable income to play with. Nay, nay and thrice nay I cry, but by the time I’ve reached the thrice nay they’re tuckingΒ  into their Tesco convenience meal and I’m left talking to myself.

So let’s set the record straight. One of these boxes would set you back Β£15.95 and for that you get six types of vegetable plus potatoes and three types of fruit. We had:

3lb potatoes (11 medium – large)
1 1/2lb carrots (11 medium – large)
1lb white onions (7 small – medium)
9oz punnet tomatoes
1lb white cabbage (1 medium – large)
500g parsnips (5 medium to large)
1 large lettuce
2lb bananas (6 large)
1 lb 9 oz apples (5 large)
4 large oranges
and a partridge in a pear tree (ok, you don’t; I’m just checking to see if you’re listening)

A bargain if ever there was one. And in this weather when snow piles up on the side of the roads, I didn’t have to take the car out to fetch it all. It was all bought to me by a friendly, smiling delivery man.

Right, back to the important topic of landfill waste. I can reuse the punnet, but what about the end of its useful life? A quick call to Abel and Cole headquarters and I was told that the punnets and packaging are made from PLA (polylacticacid), which, my research shows is a compostable corn plastic. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to be able to compost this particularly well in a home composting system as it requires very specific conditions.

The good news, however, is that from next week, Abel and Cole will be switching to another type of plastic called ‘Naturflex’. This is more easily composted at home and is made from renewable wood pulp.

The drivers collect the cardboard boxes for reuse (they are reused until they fall apart and then recycled) and the string has been cut carefully and saved for reuse here at Chez Green. I assume you could send that back too if you wished.

Abel and Cole aren’t just about knobly celeriac and strange shaped bananas, however. They sell British meat, fish, dairy and bread. And at the peak of the harvest season, everything in the box is British. Anything bought in from abroad (such as the fair trade bananas we have) is not air freighted. Gone are the days of being stuck with things you don’t like either. You can say Yay or Nay to each of the items before placing your order or even make up your own selection. This would be great for us. None of us, for example, like parsnips. But the amount of potatoes in the box is far too low for us. Abel and Cole make it easy to get exactly what you want.

In addition, Abel and Cole is launching its first chicken reared using soya free feed. What’s the deal with soya fed chickens? Well, the widespread use of soya in products such as chicken feed is leading to deforestation in the Amazon. Abel and Cole have teamed up with a Devon farmer, Peter Coleman, who is an expert in animal nutrition. He has created a chicken feed, rich in British ingredients and free from soya. If you can’t get hold of organic chickens, then these are the next best thing in terms of ethics and taste.

This week then I’m going to write about all the wonderful things I make with the contents of our fruit and veg box. It will be an interesting challenge because none of us like parsnips. But never say never, I’m going to have a play and see if I can make them palatable. We’ve had them roast already, and you’ll be able to read about that later.

Abel and Cole have their own recipes section, which I shall be perusing and I’ll be making the most of two of my favourite sites for recipes; veg box recipes and Love Food Hate Waste for inspiration.

Now if you’re convinced that Abel and Cole are for you, then why not put a little credit in Mrs A’s account? As they don’t deliver here, I can’t get an account, so spread the love and mention The Rubbish Diet when you sign up during February and you’ll get yourself a free cookbook, while Mrs A will get a free carrot in her next box. That will help her see in the dark which means you get to enjoy more of her late night ramblings.

I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions. What would you make with some of these goodies? I might just try them out!

Later in the month we’ll be launching a competition to win a veg box like the one we have – designed to feed 2 or 3 of you for a week. So be sure to check the site regularly.


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (22)

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  1. Mrs G – you’re a lucky girl πŸ˜€ Shame they don’t deliver in your area though. Our veg box is still going. It was a real treat, but I’ve not had much time to be creative this last week. The kids enjoyed the carrots raw and we snacked on the cherry tomatoes. At least I did get chance to make a vegetable stew at the weekend, which was delicious. And guess what, a chicken arrived at my door yesterday too.

    Enjoy your veggies and cheers for the plug. I could always do with another free lunch πŸ˜€ xx

  2. Emma says:

    Aha! You will soon be able to contribute to my ongoing opus – 101 Uses for Abel & Cole string: http://tinyurl.com/acstring

  3. Mrs Jackson says:

    Oh how very lovely. They don’t deliver here either. I really need to look up who do and apparently the healthy vouchers can be redemmed at some sites.

    Have you tried roast parsnips covered in honey?

  4. Michelle says:

    We get a veg box, not Abel and Cole but Rivernene. They don’t offer an option to make swaps but it does make for an interesting challenge to find ways of eating things we don’t like! I am thinking of giving Abel and Cole a try as our local distribution people have recently changed and I am not quite as happy with them as the lovely chap who used to deliver to us so very interested to read this.

  5. Maureen says:

    I get a wonderful box every week from Slipstream Organics who are based just up the hill from me (Ullenwood, nr Cheltenham)You get to choose if there is anything you dont want on a regular basis and then, its a surprise every week what you get on top of the staples, which encourages some creative cookery!
    No plastic either, the tomatoes come in a paper bag.
    how about curried parnip soup?

  6. Poppy says:

    Just to back Maureen’s comments on Slipstream. They are always very obliging if there is something we try and don’t like and over all I find it a challenge to use all the veg and often have things that I would never have bought if I’d been to the shops. A friend used to deliver for a similar company and I had to contact her on several occasions to identify a mystery object!

  7. esther says:

    I have the same system overhere, every week I get my fruit and vegeatble organic bag….sometimes, hough, I do find some plastic in ‘m and I hv been trying to compost them (made out of corn). Since they’re somewhere down the compost pile, I can”t tell you if I managed to break them down yet….;don’t you just love the recipes you get with it?

  8. maisie says:

    I get a box each week fro http://www.woodlandsfarm.co.uk which is delivered by a lovely friendly chap who always has timme to say hello to the boys.

    The box I get is supposed to be for singles but we find that is sufficient for us as a family with just some extra potatoes.

    The majority of the veg is grown on ther farm or their sister farm, with anything that has to be imported being sea freighted, they also sell organic beef, lamb and turkey and eggs.

    In my box this week I got:

    1.3kg potatoes
    625g carrots
    440g parsnips
    500g broccoli
    495g onions (4)
    520g sprouts
    1.2kg red cabbage
    370g tomatoes

    and I have a weekly extra of 250g mushrooms

    I don’t get fruit from them but get what we need from the local shop as needed.

    I can pick and choose what veg items I have, say if I don’t want anything at all. and this all costs Β£8.50 delivered.

    I do use frozen peas and sweetcorn and green beeans when they are not in season.

  9. Kris says:

    That box looks lovely and I’ve just had a good laugh at your nefarious scheme to turn Mrs A orange πŸ˜€

    Like several others here, I’ve tried delivery boxes (Slipstream again in my case, quite a few years ago) and found the contents fresh, tasty and satisfying, and I liked being able to just hand back the box as the new one arrived. I didn’t continue however as I do like to see what I’m tempted by on a frequent basis, and because around the same time I found the Farmers Market which I’ve attended regularly ever since.

    It’s an excellent way to get veg and fruit in though, and for the creative cook an opportunity to build meals up from the healthiest ingredients.

    As for parsnips, could you sneak them into curry or casserole where they will be satisfyingly starchy but not quite so sweet-tasting. As a bit of a swede-dodger I tend to find something like casserole is the best way to lose it! Failing that, you do have my address don’t you? Roast parsnip is one of my absolute favourite foods πŸ™‚ (And I’m a lightweight compared to my Aunt who swears, hand on heart, that parsnips are her favourite food item of all!)

  10. Layla says:

    This is interesting!
    The box schemes don’t really exist here in Slovenia.. so I didn’t know about this until recently..
    Lovely to see the veggies and fruit!!

    /I did wonder a bit how eco the bananas really are, as they’re mixed in with everything..? I hope they ARE truly eco.. And yeah, couldn’t like a reusable Tupper-ware like dish for tomatoes be offered? so one can wash and return it..? I’m a bit suspicious of ‘compostable’ things.. eg was it GMO/sprayed corn or not, etc..-it does sound horrible to waste organic corn for plastics..- and especially as this seems to be rather new technology../

    Other than that, YAY for getting lovely-looking fresh vegetables delivered!! πŸ™‚
    May you be an inspiration to many!!

  11. John Costigane says:

    Mrs Green,

    Excellent fruit & veg from Abel and Cole. The plastic packaging is not Zero Waste, at home anyway, but their decision to choose a suitable alternative is good news.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Almost Mrs Average: You’re welcome Mrs A. Veggie stew sounds good – do you have a recipe to share? Enjoy the free carrots LOL!

    @Emma: Hi Emma, love the opus. I’ll have to put my thinking hat on! At the moment LMG has claimed it and has it as some kind of lead on one of her cars (a toy one before anyone from animal welfare gets on to me πŸ˜€ )

    @Mrs Jackson: What are healthy vouchers? We did roast parsnips yesterday; I’ll be talking about the things we make from the veggies and fruit next week πŸ™‚

    @Michelle: Hi Michelle, I’m glad you enjoyed this. I’ve heard of Riverne, along with a couple of other schemes mentioned in the comments. Let us know how you get on if you order from Abel and Cole.

    @Maureen: Curried parsnip soup sounds very good, Maureen. Glad you enjoy slipstream; one of my friends works with them. It’s good to support local ventures where possible.

    @Poppy: Good to hear another vote for Slipstream. The veg box recipes is great for mystery objects; it has a section dedicated to this!

    @esther: Interesting to hear you have a similar scheme Esther – I’m eager to know how the corn plastic composts. Go and have a rummage this week and let me know πŸ˜€

    @maisie: Hi Maisie, that looks like another great scheme for people in your area. It’s always interesting to compare what you get for the money. And it’s good to see another company who care about environmental ethics such as air freighting.

    @Kris: Do you know Kris, when LMG was born the midwives wrote on her notes that she had jaundice. Infact, all they had to do was turn my hands over to reveal my orange palms to realise I’d been eating 1 kilo of raw carrots every day throughout the pregnancy LOL! It wasn’t jaundice at all, it was vitamin A overload……
    Thanks for your parsnip ideas; we’re getting through them and all will be revealed next week πŸ™‚

    @Layla: Layla, you really have a thing about bananas!! These are organic and fair trade, without packaging; is there something else I should know? According to what I found about PLA, it is non GM and the newer one is wood pulp based anyway. At least they are aware of the situation and looking for better alternatives. Nothing good about squashed tomatoes in your box πŸ˜€

    @John Costigane: Hi John; yes the fact that they are looking at alternatives gets my vote. Some of their other ethical policies are top notch, so they get my vote. The freshness of the produce was excellent too. No food waste because it will probably last a good few days.

  13. Mrs Jackson says:

    @Mrs Green: http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/
    There are a few recipe ideas on there too.

  14. just Gai says:

    Our organic fruit and veg come to us courtesy of Riverford. We collapse and return the boxes with our next delivery. Most of the produce is loosely packed. Delicate items are usually placed in cardboard punnets but there is the occasional plastic bag. We recycle ours via Sainsburys but Riverford will collect them for recycling with the empty boxes. The quality of the fruit and veg is excellent. There are a number of different boxes to choose from, and a long list of other products to add to your order, including meat boxes which unfortunately contain quite a lot of plastic.

    I have taken a look at Abel & Cole’s website and may give them a go one week just to see how they compare.

  15. max says:

    Food Packaging is a real thorny, complex issue. Riverford’s produce comes in minimal packaging and only when it’s necessary to protect or prolong the freshness of the produce. At first it seems a bit odd receiving a box with a lettuce in a plastic bag, but it’s necessary to keep the leaves moist, ultimatey minimising food waste. Riverford used to use degradable plastic bags and I think ones made from corn starch, but after some very indepth research with the Uni of Exeter they’ve gone back to using oil derived ones. OMG, I can hear the cries already, but this isn’t as mad as it sounds, as they’ve found that the energy used in the creation of a degradable bag, far outweighs that of an oil-based. You also have to look at where the bag goes – a degradable bag still goes into landfill and produces methane. If it gets into the recycling chain it can affect the quailty of a batch, causing problems with the structure of the resulting plastic products. I was a bit sceptical about Riverford’s moves at first, but it does make sense. You can look at their research findings at http://www.riverfordenvironment.co.uk. Well done to them for making them freely available, even if they shatter some of the well-used myths, expolited by some businesses for their own marketing!

  16. John Costigane says:

    @max: Degradable bags are not as good as wished and I tend to avoid but plastic bags are a no-no, save polythene type which can be recycled. I ignore the plastic packaging industry, and propaganda, and buy exclusively unpackaged fruit/veg with no food waste resulting.

  17. LOL Mrs G – now you know what I am like with recipes…I run a mile, but I promise I will reply to your email as soon as I can.

    As for the Vegetable Stew, I admit it wasn’t entirely veggie, as I used fresh stock that I’d made with a chicken carcass (left to simmer for 3 hours in 3 litres of water, wuth half a lemon, a chopped carrot, a bay leaf and salt and pepper).

    The following day, I reheated it and added chopped leaks, carrots, gently fried onions, diced potatoes, a dash of worcestershire sauce and a glub of white wine. It was delicious. But of course the next time I make it, it will be entirely different.

    And if you’re wondering what I did with the bones…they ended up in the Bokashi πŸ˜€ xxx

    LOL @ Kris comments on me turning orange. That would be a turn up…It could be a rumour but I think someone once did LOL

  18. Mrs Green says:

    @Mrs Jackson: Geesh, you know what? This **really** irks me. Way back when, when LMG was a babe in arms I was continually given milk vouchers, which were as useful as a chocolate teapot to me as I was breastfeeding. I wanted to be able to buy something useful such as vegetables and wasn’t able to do so. So I was sent this money for nothing and Β£3 towards veggies would have been great.
    Still, glad you are able to make use of them now; that makes me feel better.

    @just Gai: Hi Just Gai – good to see you on the blog and thank you for sharing your experiences. It sounds like Riverford have some great policies in place – the idea of cardboard punnets is superb. I assume if something gets wet in there, they can be composted.

    @max: Hello Max welcome to the site and thank you for your excellent comment. We are aware of some of the issues with biodegradable bags ourselves; they are not the ‘cure all’ they are touted to be! The page you sent a link to makes for very insightful reading and I admire their openness with their choices.
    Interesting about the lettuce. Ours arrived unwrapped and was extremely fresh. I washed it straight away, separated the leaves and stored in a container in the fridge. Ok, so the leaves had wilted a little in transit, but nothing that couldn’t be put right by plunging into icy water.

    @Almost Mrs Average: Mrs A – I still have hope for you and recipes πŸ˜€ Your stew sounds lovely – you’re becoming quite the housewife πŸ˜‰

  19. Stephen says:

    The chickens that Abel and Cole supply are reared in Devon. Which means that every single chicken has to be transported all the way from the west country. What a complete waste of fuel. Why don’t they source their chickens locally to where they are delivering. Yippee, they are saving the rain forest but they are adding to global warming by doing so.

  20. Mrs Green says:

    Hello Stephen, thank you for your comment. You make a good point about the ‘trade off’ regarding Abel and Cole chickens.

    There rarely appears to be a product that ‘ticks all the boxes’ in terms of ethics does there? I guess it is up to us as individuals to decide which products, manufacturers and retailers to support based on those issues which mean most to us.

    For you, local is obviously more important than rainforest. For others they might choose organic over local or fair trade over recyclable packaging.
    As a consumer there are so many choices available to us that it can often be a difficult decision to make.

    I’ve just done an auto route map on the distance from the chicken farm to Abel and Cole and it’s about 180 miles. I guess in the grand scheme of things; where we can regularly buy green beans and mangoes in the supermarkets that IS pretty local πŸ˜€

  21. Emma says:

    Hi Stephen, I just wanted to respond on behalf of Abel & Cole to your comment about our free-range chicken, as it is an important point!

    I must say, though, Mrs Green pretty much hit the nail on the head (thanks Mrs Green!). I agree that chicken travelling from Devon is not perfect for those that have a good option closer to home, and the time to go and buy it themselves. Where people don’t have a local box scheme down the road, we feel we provide a positive alternative to the supermarket. With their complex distribution model and lots of air freighted produce – their food miles tend to be in a completely different league. Admittedly, measuring food miles is a bit of a minefield.

    As Mrs Green says, everyone has their own priorities and it is sometimes hard to fulfil them all. We question ourselves in the same way about each product we stock. While we travel further to some customers than others, we do the best we can to source British whenever we can, to deliver as effectively as possible, and to experiment with new ideas that we think could make a difference, like developing a free-range chicken feed free from Amazonian soya.

    Hope this makes sense. Thanks for your feedback.

  22. Mrs Green says:

    thanks for visiting from Abel and Cole, Emma. It’s good to get the ‘hard facts’ as it were. Thanks for clarifying things and I hope Stephen is still reading to keep up with your answer πŸ™‚

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