Monday, May 17, 2010

Tips From a CSA Veteran

We're about a month from the start of our CSA season, and our farm (Connors) has just reopened its farm store. Not much local food yet, aside from spring-dug parsnips, but the anticipation mounts. Meanwhile, I'm prepping for the season, testing out recipes, and enjoying the herbs coming up in our garden.

If you are new to the CSA world, you may be wondering how you are going to manage the coming influx of produce. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Stock up your pantry. This may seem counter-intuitive; after all, you're expecting a heap of vegetables to arrive, right? But having a good supply of staples makes it easier to cook. And you will need to cook. I keep on hand beans, lentils, grains, pasta, tuna, soy sauce, spices, vinegars, and oils--not to mention cocoa, flour, squares of chocolate, vanilla, and a variety of sugars for a few produce-containing sweets.

Gather recipes. It's good to have a couple of ideas stashed away for when you have virtually nothing but lettuce in your share. (Reference last June.) I cook well off the cuff, but formal recipes help me expand my repertoire and figure out correct proportions of ingredients. I use the Internet, naturally, but I also clip recipes from newspapers and magazines, and I keep a small library of reliable cookbooks.

Bookmark reference sites. If you are having trouble identifying a vegetable, or figuring out what to do with it, the Internet is your friend. The Cook's Thesaurus, the Squash Glossary, and CHOW’s Visual Guide to Chili Peppers have all served me well. Whatever you have in your share (Swiss chard, anyone?), someone has written a blog post about it.

Make storage space. Some foods (like, say, lettuce) don't keep well. Other foods (like, say, raspberries) you'll eat up RIGHT NOW because you can't help yourself. Between those extremes, you will likely need some storage options. Canning, pickling, and freezing are all good ways of extending summer's harvest into winter. Just be sure to clear out some shelf space or freezer space for packing away the goodies.

Share with your friends. Turn your CSA bounty into a communal experience. If you have salad fixings for 20 people, it's time to host a party or a pot-luck. Bring a quiche or a zucchini bread over to your neighbor's house. Chances are they'll appreciate the gesture--unless they are overrun with vegetables, too.