MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR FARM SHARE
By Susan Clotfelter
copyright May 2001
The bounty of summer produce from a good, local farm–or even a modest vegetable garden–can overwhelm anyone. It certainly overwhelmed me until I developed a system for managing it in the summer of 2000.
What a bountiful year it was. An early spring got all of the vegetables off to an early start, and soon I was lugging home what felt like bushels of green beans, tons of potatoes, two heads of cabbages and enough potatoes to feed half of Ireland every week. I developed the following system to retain my sanity and keep from running out of space in the refrigerator.
Each Friday evening or Saturday morning, I would dedicate three or four hours to processing produce into meals that I could grab on my way out the door to work, or eat right out of the fridge with minimum toil.
As the summer continued, I honed my system. I built a pantry full of staples for processing my garden share: kosher and sea salt, gourmet pepper blends, a dried herbs de Provence blend, herb-flavored and wine vinegars, good olive oils, tamari and sesame seeds for sprinkling. Each Friday found me gathering equipment: a big steamer pot, a big skillet for sauteing, a bowl for trimmings to be composted, and glass bowls with lids for storing everything. I actually got to a point where my refrigerator no longer looked like a bacterial experiment station, a point where I was enjoying more vegetables than my compost heap. I made pesto, crunched on cold pickled green beans, invented new recipes.
I called my method for handling my share the `10-S’ system.
Soil calls everything back to itself. Before leaving home to pick up your weekly share or shop your local farmer’s market, check the refrigerator and the top of the counter for anything that’s far past its prime. Face it: you’re not going to cut out the bad spots and eat tattered tomatoes when fresh, warm-from-the-garden produce awaits you. So compost what’s gone irretrievably nasty. Instead of wasting the love, care, and sweat that went into growing the food, you’ll be returning it to the soil, bugs, and birds.
There are some treats from the garden that should not be shared. They should be devoured as soon as possible, guiltily, stealthily, before anyone else knows they’re lurking in your bag. Sweet snap peas, crunchy baby carrots, new lemon cucumbers, the first warm, wet, tart tomato–these items never made it into my house. I’d eat them on the road home from the farm, pitching pea strings out the truck’s window.
Once at home, I’d unpack everything and lay it out on the table, get my big steamer pot filled and heating, and ogle the bounty. Through most of summer, my share included a bag of hard, crisp, tangy red radishes. I’d trim them and set them in a bowl of ice water, and put a saucer of kosher salt for dipping nearby. By the time I had the whole share processed, at least half of the radishes would have disappeared.
Tender greens go nasty first, and their nutrients are the first to be lost. But it’s hard to make what we generally think of as a salad when lettuce is the only ingredient. Try sprinkling a salad with spring herbs or salad weeds such as purslane. Toss sunflower seeds or dried cranberries among the leaves. Top them with canned albacore tuna and dress them with a good olive oil and herbed vinegar. Build a salad in a big glass bowl to put in the refrigerator, or in small bowls to take to work or send with children in their lunch.
If you’ve never had coleslaw made with cabbage that’s fresh from the garden, you don’t know what you’re missing. I would shred mine by hand with a good butcher knife and add a dollop of low-fat mayo, a little raspberry vinegar, and a handful of fennel seeds. Balsamic vinaigrette makes another great slaw dressing.
Plop handfuls of tender green beans or snow peas, baby carrots, and trimmed scallions into a big steamer; when they’re just a little tender, throw them in a container with a lid and add olive oil and herbed vinegar or plain cider vinegar with fresh herbs from your share. Pop it in the refrigerator, and you’ll have a marvelous after-work snack. The first flowerets of broccoli and cauliflower work well steamed and marinated, too. Toss in cubes of feta cheese or tofu, and it’s practically a meal.
If the farm grows bumper crops of green beans, heat the steamer water to boiling, blanch the beans for a minute, then tuck them into freezer bags and store them for the cold days of fall, or to dehydrate for soups later.
Finally, when your first red or white beets arrive, whack off the greens and steam them until wilted. Dress with organic yogurt; this is the blood-building dish that reportedly keeps Ukrainians healthy into their 90s.
“Too much kale!” came back the survey forms after the growing season ended at Guidestone last year. Now, a person can only have too much kale–or chard, or mustard, or other tough greens–if they don’t know how to cook it. And this year, farm gardeners tell me, they’re growing three types of kale, plus spinach and its kissin’ cousin, swiss chard.
The Food Network’s Two Fat Ladies taught me how to cook chard: trim the leaves from the stems. Chop the stems as if they were celery, and saute them in good fresh oil (olive, canola, avocado, or sesame) until tender. Add the chopped leaves and a bit of wine, herb vinegar or tamari; cover and steam until the greens are tender. If you want to be really decadent, add a few dollops of soft, fresh goat cheese.
Kale can be a tough customer. Pare the leaves from the stems; discard the stems. Chop the leaves and saute them with onions. If you eat meat, fry up some organic bacon or turkey bacon first, and saute the greens in a little bit of the fat. Again, once all the leaves are moistened and beginning to wilt add a splash of wine, herb vinegar or tamari, and cover to steam them until chewable. Kale and other greens are among the food items thought to contain chemopreventives–ingredients that may fend off certain cancers. At the very least, they’re packed with vitamins and minerals.
The beets were so lovely–my first batch of them big enough to justify boiling water to cook them in. It was late enough in the season that the greens were too battered to be enticing, so I whacked them off and put them in the trimmings bowl. My beets bubbled on the stove while I sliced and blanched other vegetables. They were done, and I rinsed them and slipped them out of their dark, earthy jackets, turning the sink a brilliant purple.
But I also had a double share of basil, and had never made pesto before. I wanted to try two kinds, one with parmesan, the other with pine nuts. So off to the grocery store I dashed, leaving the beets in a colander in the sink.
Unfortunately, there was someone else at home who couldn’t resist temptation. I got back from the grocery, intent on making my first pesto. It turned out wonderful: bright green, rich and fragrant. But by then, I was hungry–and hadn’t I just been making something else for dinner?
Telltale purple traces on the kitchen’s tile floor and the blue rug nearby jogged my memory. My dog had actually gotten his nose into the kitchen sink to steal the beets; they were that good. He had left not one.
Beets and other root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes can also be roasted. Put them on a cookie sheet, season with herbs, salt, and pepper, and pop them in a 350-degree oven and roast until soft when poked with a fork. Or combine, say, carrots and potatoes with a small amount of wine and stock, and roast covered for a moister dish.
By midsummer, they were harvesting potatoes at the farm. And more potatoes. And more potatoes. I didn’t know what to do with them all. Soup to the rescue! I fried a pound of organic bacon, drained it, then shredded about three pounds of little white potatoes. I simmered the bacon and potatoes together in plain water, skimming any foam, until the potatoes were done, adding only salt, pepper, and a dash of hot-pepper vinegar. Then I froze the soup in quart canning jars to enjoy after snowshoeing trips in the winter.
You can make soup with any vegetables that you don’t think you’re going to get around to eating. If they’re looking a tad wilted, but you can’t conscience composting them just yet, make stock. Pack a stock pot with vegetables and filtered water; throw in a cup of white wine, some salt and pepper, any herbs you’ve got. Simmer a good few hours, strain, put in jars, and freeze. It’s great to have these broths on hand when the winter cold and flu season hits.
OK, so you’ve stuffed yourself and processed these vegetables every way you know how. Or have you? Your county extension service, or even your organic farm itself, may offer classes in low-impact ways of storing food for the winter. Many items that are easiest to freeze can also be preserved by canning or dehydrating. Some vegetables from the fall harvest, such as butternut squash, need nothing more than a cool spot in the pantry to keep all through the winter months.
When you know how much work it takes to grow food in an honest, caring way, it impresses upon you the duty of wasting as little of it as possible.
So you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? So you can’t face making that huge batch of onion soup that you collected twenty pounds of onions for? Remember that no one did this alone back when half of the population farmed. Invite friends over for a soup party or canning bash and send everyone home with a jar. Or take extra produce to work to share with colleagues. If you create a wonderful recipe, write it down to post at your CSA. Part of the magic of the organic movement is that it brings people together
in celebration of the food that sustains them and the earth that makes it possible.
Soil calls everything back to itself. I found myself saving seeds from the squashes in my farm share, labeling them and tucking them away to plant in my own garden the next year. As my jack-o-lantern, carved from a pumpkin that was part of my farm share, gradually collapsed during fall’s frosts, I scooped it up and buried it in my brick planter. This spring, I’ll plant herbs there, and use them to season the vegetables from the upcoming summer.
I can’t wait for those first radishes.