Do you wonder how you can possibly use up everything in your CSA box? We’re talking Community Supported Agriculture here – a brilliant idea that’s taken hold in the past few years with increasing popularity. I’m a big cheerleader of this movement. If you haven’t heard of it, google CSA plus the name of your town and see what comes up.
Being a member of a CSA takes commitment, organization and planning – and a sense of adventure! I had my first taste several years ago while still living in Nashville, Tennessee. A small local farm (following organic practices) ran their CSA from May to November. Members had to sign up in advance and pay up front to secure their share. Somewhere in the range of $475 for 28 weeks – a mere $17 for a big box (3/8 bushel or 3 gallons) of produce every week, which I was able to pick up in my neighborhood.
Here in San Francisco, things are a little different. Much more expensive (of course), but also easier in some ways. I now pay for a box that comes directly to my apartment door every other week. The cost is double – $35 – and the size is smaller. But it’s still cheaper than what I would spend at the grocery store for organic produce (note I’m still averaging $17 per week). There is no big investment up front (it’s pay-as-you-go), and with advanced notice you can skip a delivery if you’re going to be out of town. It’s perfectly flexible for big city living, and the smaller size/less frequent delivery is actually a relief.
The hardest part about joining a CSA is dealing with the abundance. It’s a race against time to use up everything before the next box comes. I like the challenge, though, and take pride in not letting any produce go to waste in our two-person household. Plus I know we’re eating healthier and saving money by eating at home.
My husband is not one for seeking out vegetables. He’ll eat fruit voluntarily, but I have to remind him to put lettuce on his sandwich. He’d rather get pizza or brisket at the grocery hot bar than worry about cooking something for dinner. That said, he’s pretty amicable (or at least polite) about eating whatever I put in front of him.
When the box comes, I focus on eating the most perishable stuff first: lettuces, greens, herbs, fruit. I amp up the salads until the lettuce is gone. Then it’s time to get more creative, using a few major tools that help me with the rest.
I find it easy to locate delicious recipes online. That said, I often go old-school and open up some of my favorite cookbooks. Lately I’ve been using Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables, which I bought mainly because the cover was so pretty. What I love about this book, besides the beautiful artwork, is its simplicity. The vegetables are presented in chapters alphabetically, so if I need to know what to do with a beet, I just head to the B’s. Waters gives a background on each vegetable and then offers several delectable (and mostly simple) recipe options. Yay, Alice!
Another favorite book is The Healthy Hedonist by Myra Kornfeld. I specifically sought this one out years ago to help me tackle the CSA box. Kornfeld touts “flexitarian recipes designed to satisfy all kinds of appetites.” I love it. Such elegant, tasty dishes abound – and again, most of them doable by the amateur cook. Featuring vegetarian delights as well as some meat-centered recipes (hence “flexitarian”).
I have a couple of Moosewood cookbooks that are old standbys, as well as a specialty pasta cookbook and juicing guide that I use often. Though when it gets down to some random remainders, the internet is often my best bet. Last night I googled “broccoli celery” – two things that I needed to use up before they went bad – and found a great recipe for broccoli celery soup. I had all the ingredients on hand (thanks to the CSA box) and whipped up a delicious homemade soup in about an hour.
A note about kitchen tools: a few appliances are essential when plowing through the CSA box. I couldn’t function without my KitchenAid food processor, Cuisinart immersion blender (with extra chopper) and L’Equip juicer (read more about my juicing and soup stock adventures here).
Food processors save precious time when faced with a lot of chopping, slicing or shredding. As for immersion blenders, don’t even try to make a puréed soup without one – who wants to heft a scalding pot of hot soup into a regular blender? (What a mess!) Once committed to a good-quality immersion blender, life becomes much easier. And if you’re an avid juicer, the CSA will certainly save you time and money with ample supply.
But is cooking with a CSA really easier? Trust me, there’s no need to be afraid of that ridiculous summer bounty. Too many tomatoes? Make a sauce for pasta. Too many potatoes? Use that food processor to slice ’em up and make a frittata or kuku. Zucchini out the wazoo? Sauté with garlic and Parmesan or add to a quesadilla.
Whatever you enjoy eating, the CSA box has a lot to offer. It definitely breaks you out of habitual buying and cooking patterns. I once received a UFO – an Unidentified Feeding Object – in the box. It was the size of a grapefruit, but the color and hardness of a green apple. Meet the Kohlrabi! Who doesn’t love a new vegetable to explore?
Because of the variety, I believe CSA eating is a healthier option. We all get stuck eating the same things over and over. Why not mix it up a bit? Besides, the food is fresher (sometimes pulled out of the ground the same day you get it); I had no idea there could be so many subtle flavors in a carrot or a leaf of lettuce. Local is better and lasts longer. Instead of picking a recipe and then going to the store to buy ingredients that may have traveled a far distance, I let the CSA box guide what I make. So I can feel good about eating locally-grown, seasonal food. It’s a no-brainer; and with the right tools, it’s also a cinch.
So go for it! Go all the way! CSA! CSA! CSA!!!