Aside from TGIF and BYOB, there are few acronyms I love more than CSA. No, I’m not talking about the Controlled Substance Act or the Confederate States Army or my Crazy Seasonal Allergies. I’m talking about Community Supported Agriculture, or the season that I think rivals Christmas and Arbor Day as the most wonderful time of the year.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a CSA is a program in which consumers can buy seasonal vegetables directly from the farmer by paying an upfront cost and collecting a box of produce during pre-scheduled pick-ups. Unlike a farmers’ market, where you choose exactly what you want to buy and in what quantity, a CSA delivers what’s fresh that week and in a quantity proportional to how good the harvest was.
The pros of this arrangement are the farmer gets upfront cash to do the planting and the buyer is forced to try new veggies she might not normally buy. The downside is a poor crop means less take-home food for you, while a bumper* crop means you’re sometimes stuck with 6 pounds of kohlrabi you don’t know what to do with.
*Does the phrase ‘bumper crop’ remind everyone else of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’ too? Ok, good.
Still, the rewards far outweigh the risks in my opinion, so when my company advertised a summer/fall of bi-weekly deliveries brought straight to my office, I couldn’t resist. And unlike two years ago when I bought a share and split it with a friend, this summer, I’m planning to go it alone. Why? Because I’m trying to eat more vegetables and haven’t yet found my new Queens Greenmarket. Also because when you share, it’s really hard to split a single spaghetti squash, and I’m selfish.
The first pick-up was this past Tuesday, and OH THE BOUNTY. It’s still spring, and that means mostly greens for now. We had several things I recognized, like head lettuce and bok choy and scallions and kale, but also some things I definitely had to google, like tatsoi.
Some people who buy CSAs say it’s hard to use all the ingredients, especially the unfamiliar ones, in the two weeks before the next box arrives. But with a little creativity and forward planning, it’s completely possible to eat every last ounce. Here are my best strategies for getting the most out of your summer CSA:
- Remove the greens. First thing first (well, after taking the required CSA instagram photo), remove all the green tops from root vegetables, like radishes and carrots and kohlrabi and turnips. Sure, they look pretty as a whole unit, but the greens will keep sucking moisture out of the roots while they sit in your crisper. After you snip off the tops, feel free to keep the leaves for another use. Turnip greens are great in soups, and carrot tops make amazing pesto. Don’t be bullied into using everything though — I’ve finally admitted to myself I don’t like radish greens (too fuzzy!), raw or cooked, so I allowed myself to toss them on Tuesday. Don’t judge me.
- Eat softer things first. You may be tempted to crack right into the sweet potatoes, but try to use your faster-to-wilt veggies first. That means lettuces right away, followed by other leafy greens and delicate produce. I only get a share every two weeks, so it’s important to save some of the heartier things for week two, like the squashes.
- Work veggies into every meal. This is a good rule of thumb all the time — don’t eat any meal without adding something grown — but it’s especially important as you try to use up veggies before they rot. Sautéed tatsoi (basically Asian spinach, I learned this week) makes a great bacon and egg accompaniment, turns out.
- Master some easy go-to dishes. It’s good to have a few recipes up your sleeve that can use multiple veggies at once. Bonus points if you can make it ahead and freeze it, so you have it for week two. For some people, that go-to dish is a hearty soup or a bisquick pie. For me, it’s quiche. I’ve already eaten most of one, and a second is cooling in my icebox as we speak.
- Don’t fear the pickle. One way to get your vegetables to last longer is to preserve them. I don’t do anything fancy that will last til next winter like I’m a modern Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I do like to pickle my radishes. They’re so easy and so delicious, especially on burgers or tuna sandwiches or by the forkful. Here’s the recipe I use.
More ambitious cooks might have other tips for getting the most out of their CSAs, like making jams and canning and freezing things through the off-season, but I’m not that fancy. Fancier folks, what else do you recommend to get the most out of your CSA? (And how can I control these Crazy Seasonal Allergies?!)