Since so many of us have joined the frays of small farm supporting by becoming new members of CSAs, I’ve noticed a particular syndrome going around this summer. The symptoms? Staying in to eat lettuce heads that have piled up in the crisper over some weeks, extreme guilt about going out to eat when there’s tons of food at home; passing up plans to make the weekly pick-up day and time, or feeling the need to schedule vacations around your CSA calendar. And then the danger symptom, indicating the illness has reached its next, undesirable stage: deciding to forfeit a few items from your share on a particular week, leaving them behind at the pick-up location.
Basically, it’s being bogged down by the little commitments one makes when joining a CSA. I can relate. It took me three days past the official pick-up night last week when I finally took my half of a full share out of my share-splitter’s fridge. People, especially in urban areas, continue to have unpredictably busy schedules, even though their will to support local food has grown.
But, before you start tossing once-fresh vegetables to the compost, or dread another bag of spinach in the fridge, here are a few tips that have helped me, at least, figure out what to do with all this great food.
Put away the pots and pans. If your CSA produce looks anything like mine, it’s probably at its best potential raw. We’re not talking about pesticide-drenched, close to moldy, stuff from the supermarket. So beyond a little dirt and bugs, there’s nothing high heat needs to kill, besides some extra vitamins. Zucchini and summer squash? Chopped and sprinkled with sea salt, lemon and olive oil and they’re a refreshingly crisp, new breed.
If you spend a few extra minutes washing and patting down your produce with towels, you can grab and go from the fridge much easier through the week. Plus, the time taken will reinforce what you have that week in your mind, hopefully clearing up all, “What’s in here and how old is it?” confusion.
Appoint a back-up pick-up buddy.
It’s like the person who has your extra set of housekeys, for when you get locked out. Except instead of hanging onto a measly key, this neighbor gets to hang onto a big batch of food when you can’t pick up your CSA share. And the words, “Keep whatever you like!” should be a pretty good guarantee for his or her service.
Save the hardiest vegetables for later.
Beets last a really long time. Kohlrabi is not going to turn in a week, either. If you find that you simply have too much stuff to eat in a week (as I do often), go for the most delicate leafy greens first. Save the big heads of cabbage, potatoes, green beans and carrots for another week, and don’t worry about them.
In times of stress, we can all lean on our friends. I don’t think I needed to sound half as desperate when I asked one, in a moment of high CSA stress, “I have too much food, can I make you dinner?!” Who doesn’t like local, fresh food, being served to them free? Plus, following guideline #1, there really is very little preparation that should be involved for this grub.
Can it, jam it, pickle it (and compost the scraps).
A few mason jars go a long way; you can make pickles, jam or sauces like chutney and pesto to snack on throughout the year by squashing a lot of fresh produce into its tightly-packed constraints. But if this weekend hobby is not quite your style, you can still salvage extra produce by simply bagging it and tossing it in the freezer. Broccoli and green beans work great for this.
Make a stress-relieving tea with dried herbs.
Overwhelmed by all the fresh herbs you’ve been getting? Grow your own already, and don’t really need ‘em? Hang a bunch upside-down for a week, like you would with a rose bouquet, and crumble the flakes into a mason jar. Yep, I have cilantro “tea,” all ready to steep. So? (Hint: mix in those dried rose petals, too, if you’ve got them.)
Be a good member.
It’s easy to dash in and out of CSA pick-up in the middle of your busy day or night, but the folks volunteering there, or organizing the local chapter, can really help you out if you have a stress situation. Communicate if you’re going to be out of town and can’t pick up your stuff, they might appreciate the advance notice to gauge how much will be leftover at the end of that day. Or give it away to someone else in the group who might actually need it for a big bash they’re throwing. Volunteering, teamworking and spreading the good karma might win you favors in return, like being able to store your untaken stash another day somewhere convenient.