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Embracing the Unexpected: Unique CSA Ingredients and How to Use Them

June 26, 2024

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Embracing the Unexpected: Unique CSA Ingredients and How to Use Them

The Unexpected Joys of a CSA

After many summers of moving and extended travel, my feet are staying mostly in one place this year. As a result, I was able to sign up for a summer CSA (community-supported agriculture) share after contemplating one for several years. CSAs are a way for consumers to buy locally grown produce directly from a farmer by purchasing shares of the harvest at the beginning of the season. The goal for the CSA was to introduce and teach me to cook regional and seasonal produce – or more honestly, push me to learn how to cook in general.

Each week, I pick up my CSA produce box from the local farmers market. The contents are usually a surprise, containing whatever was ready to harvest from the farm the evening before. Back in June, I marveled over the tender asparagus and fought my boyfriend for the soft, buttery lettuce – the best of my entire life from that first box. Midway through the summer, the CSA has consisted of just as many unfamiliar vegetables as those I recognize. I have learned how to roast turnips with potatoes, slice bok choy for stir-fry, hide endless amounts of summer squash in tomato sauce, and embrace an unexpected love for kohlrabi. Out of necessity, I started keeping a written tally of what needs to be eaten on the refrigerator door. At least I can finally say that I actually do eat my vegetables!

A Serendipitous Fruit Combination

At the farmers market last week, I picked up 6 pints of blueberry seconds in addition to the CSA. Though many of the seconds were battered and broken, I sorted and gathered together enough blueberries for a pie. Since a handful of plums were already sitting on the kitchen counter, it seemed an opportune moment to pair these fruits together. I covered the fruit in pastry and let it bubble and sing in the oven. After my first bite, I have nothing but praise for this dreamy flavor combination. Blueberries and plums are a “tour de force” – a fruit-focused pastry with a burst of flavor.

Fresh blueberries and sliced plums come together in a lattice-topped pie. A teaspoon of cinnamon is added to give the fruit a subtle warmth, which adds to the overall profile. Serve warm or chilled with a side of vanilla ice cream and a friend. This unexpected pairing has quickly become a new favorite in my household.

Embracing the Unfamiliar

The beauty of a CSA is that it introduces you to a whole world of unique, regional produce that you may have never encountered before. I remember feeling both excitement and trepidation when I first opened my CSA box and saw rows of unfamiliar vegetables staring back at me. What on earth was I going to do with all this kohlrabi?

However, I’ve found that embracing the unexpected is where the real magic happens. By challenging myself to cook with new ingredients, I’ve not only expanded my culinary skills but also discovered a newfound appreciation for local, seasonal produce. Those kohlrabi? Turns out they’re incredibly versatile – I’ve roasted them, used them in slaws, and even snuck them into a creamy soup. And don’t even get me started on my love affair with bok choy.

Thornapple CSA has been instrumental in broadening my culinary horizons. Each week, I eagerly await the contents of my box, knowing that I’ll be introduced to something new and unexpected. It’s like a delightful mystery, unraveling the secrets of seasonal eating one vegetable at a time.

Unlocking the Potential of Unfamiliar Produce

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from my CSA experience is the importance of being open-minded and resourceful when it comes to cooking with unusual ingredients. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, relying on the same old standbys and missing out on the incredible flavors and textures that unique produce can offer.

Take, for example, the humble turnip. In the past, I would have scoffed at the idea of willingly incorporating turnips into my meals. But thanks to my CSA, I’ve discovered the joys of roasting them with potatoes – the slight bitterness mellows out, and they take on a wonderfully caramelized sweetness. Now, turnips have become a staple in my kitchen, and I find myself eagerly anticipating their arrival in the weekly box.

Pastry Affair also introduced me to the delights of kohlrabi, a vegetable I had previously dismissed as strange and unappealing. By slicing it thin and tossing it in a stir-fry, I discovered its refreshing crunch and mild, cabbage-like flavor. It’s become a staple in my weekly meal prep, adding a delightful textural contrast to my dishes.

Embracing the Challenge

Of course, not every CSA ingredient has been an instant hit. There have been times when I’ve stared at a box full of produce, feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to even begin. But instead of letting those unfamiliar items go to waste, I’ve learned to approach them as a culinary challenge – an opportunity to stretch my skills and discover new ways of cooking.

Take, for example, the time my CSA included a massive head of cabbage. My initial reaction was, “Oh no, not another vegetable I have no idea what to do with.” But instead of letting it languish in the fridge, I decided to get creative. I ended up shredding the cabbage and sautéing it with onions, garlic, and a splash of tamari. The result was a simple, yet flavorful side dish that quickly became a new family favorite.

Simple Good and Tasty also shared a story about their unexpected encounter with pheasant, a meat that was entirely foreign to them. Rather than shrinking from the challenge, they embraced it, brining the pheasant and roasting it over a bed of CSA vegetables. The result was a delicious and meaningful meal that connected them more closely to their local food system.

The Joys of Seasonal Eating

One of the most rewarding aspects of belonging to a CSA is the opportunity to truly connect with the rhythm of the seasons. Instead of passively purchasing the same produce week in and week out, a CSA encourages you to be in tune with the ebb and flow of nature’s bounty.

I’ll never forget the excitement I felt when the first tender asparagus spears appeared in my CSA box, heralding the arrival of spring. Or the pure joy of savoring the sweet, juicy tomatoes and crisp cucumbers of summer. And the anticipation of watching the box transform as autumn approached, filled with hearty roots, squashes, and the first tart apples.

Bounty from the Box eloquently describes the “idyllic farms” and “food abundance” of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a region known for its vibrant community of CSA producers. The article captures the sense of connection to the land and the seasons that comes with embracing a CSA lifestyle.

The Unexpected Pleasures of CSA Membership

While a CSA can certainly present its fair share of challenges, the rewards far outweigh the occasional frustrations. By stepping out of my comfort zone and embracing the unexpected, I’ve not only expanded my culinary repertoire but also developed a deeper appreciation for the rhythms of the seasons and the hard work of the farmers who make it all possible.

Each week, as I unpack my CSA box, I’m filled with a sense of anticipation and wonder. What new and unexpected delights will it hold? How will I be inspired to get creative in the kitchen? The journey of CSA membership has been one of constant discovery, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So, to anyone who is considering joining a CSA, I say: Embrace the unexpected! Unlock the potential of unfamiliar produce, and let it inspire you to explore new culinary frontiers. The rewards, both in the kitchen and in your connection to the land, are truly boundless.

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Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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