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Preserving the Harvest: Creative Canning and Pickling Recipes for Your CSA Haul

June 26, 2024

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Preserving the Harvest: Creative Canning and Pickling Recipes for Your CSA Haul

Embracing the Surprises of a CSA Subscription

I stared at the box brimming with vegetables, wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Unidentifiable greens, tiny round potatoes, a clutch of dirt-dusted perfectly red radishes, a small container of wild strawberries – all this bounty was mine, if only I could figure out what to do with it. For an urbanite such as myself, being connected to a farm brings a bit of the country into the city. It reminds me that there’s a vast acreage out there, not bound by concrete and tall buildings, and helps me to eat with the seasons, bringing home how important it is to know the source of my food.

Welcome to cooking from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share. You might not always recognize every item in your weekly box, but it’s almost certain to inspire. I ventured into a CSA subscription years ago when I lived on the East Coast, prompted by my brother who was working on an organic farm in Virginia. His farm didn’t run a CSA, but others in the area did. I loved the idea of supporting a small local farm, and I saw it as a complete win-win situation for both the farmer and myself. The farm received a reliable weekly income, and I received incredibly fresh organic produce that cost less than a trip to the supermarket.

One bonus of CSA cooking is that I have learned to cook vegetables with which I was previously unfamiliar, like chard and kabocha squash. A hearty dinner of beans and greens, shredded and sautéed kale paired with white beans and a lot of garlic or spring onions, has become a staple. Some farms also offer eggs or contract with local producers to include fresh cheese or even milk in the weekly share.

The Joys and Challenges of CSA Cooking

The concept of Community Supported Agriculture was introduced to the United States from Europe in the mid-1980s and has built in momentum and popularity, especially during the past decade, particularly for those living in cities or suburbs without gardens. According to the US Department of Agriculture, data collected in 2007 indicated that 12,549 farms in the United States reported marketing products through a CSA arrangement.

A CSA share typically is provided weekly, with pickups or deliveries on a designated day and place or at the farm. One Bay Area farm used to arrange for the weekly pickup at a San Francisco restaurant. You could grab your box and have a cocktail and a chat with the farmer who had brought in that week’s haul. That spirit of community is what motivates Lisa Moussalli, who along with her husband Ali, owns Frog Bottom Farm in Virginia.

The Moussallis run a 200-share CSA and sell at two local farmers markets. Frog Bottom’s aim, according to Lisa, is “to grow honest, delicious food and provide families with most of their staple vegetables with enough diversity to keep things interesting.” What certainly keeps things interesting is that a CSA share involves a perpetual element of surprise. You don’t always know exactly what you’re going to get because, while the farm you’ve signed up with might email or post a potential weekly produce list online, the farmers themselves won’t know what’s perfect for picking until they’re in the fields, which can leave you wondering what the heck you’ll do with all those mystery greens. It’s almost always an adventure.

Many farms include recipe suggestions for what to do with an abundance of herbs, lettuces, yams, or those mysterious greens so you’re not left bewildered by how to incorporate them into dinner. The Moussallis include recipes on their website to help customers plan meals around the weekly share. One for massaged kale salad has me rethinking my own approach to the vegetable.

If you want to dip a toe in the CSA experience but worry that you won’t use up your weekly vegetables, you could go in with a friend. “It’s easy to swap and mix and match so nothing gets wasted,” Moussalli said. A typical share, costing $25 per week, is enough to feed a family of four, and many farms offer half-shares as well.

Embracing the Unexpected

What I love about getting the bulk of my fruits and vegetables through a CSA share is that it challenges me. “OK, this week I have a lot of squash and chard, so how can I use them up in interesting ways? Should I bake with the peaches or just eat them in long, juicy slices? I try to hold off a mad dash to the store to get mushrooms. Maybe I can just do without when I have so many other things from which to choose.”

Of course, everything tastes so much better when it’s eaten within a few days of being picked. Cooking from a CSA forces me to cook outside my comfort zone, to try new things, to experiment. It also saves me money because I force myself to cook mainly from the weekly share, augmented with staples such as bread, cheese, beans, and dried goods, and the occasional trip to the farmers market, until I use up everything.

Then there is the concept of investment that goes beyond the monetary. “I truly care about the farm I’ve contracted with and worry whether the spring rains will delay the tomato planting or how a particularly dry summer will affect the overall harvest,” Moussalli says. For an urbanite such as myself, being connected to a farm brings a bit of the country into the city. It reminds me that there’s a vast acreage out there, not bound by concrete and tall buildings, helps me to eat with the seasons, and brings home how important it is to know the source of my food.

Turning Abundance into Preserves

The trick to CSA-share cooking is to embrace what you get. Ingenuity is key, and imagination is necessary. Too many greens? Make soup or freeze for later consumption. An abundance of carrots? Pickle ’em. Fruit and tomatoes can be sauced, jarred, canned, or turned into jam. And if you’re blessed with a pint of just-picked blueberries, eat them slowly out of hand and wonder what will be in your box next week.

As the team at Thornapple CSA knows, preserving the harvest is an essential part of making the most of your weekly bounty. Whether you’re canning, pickling, or dehydrating, these techniques allow you to enjoy the flavors of the season long after the final CSA box has been picked up.

The beauty of preserving your CSA haul is that you can get creative with the ingredients you receive. Sure, you might end up with an abundance of zucchini or tomatoes one week, but with a little ingenuity, you can turn those into delectable canned salsa, zucchini relish, or even homemade pasta sauce to enjoy in the winter months.

Recipes for Preserving the Harvest

Pickled Garlic Scapes

As Chef Heidi Fink shares, these crazy green coils that emerge from garlic plants in the spring make for fantastic pickles. The process is easy, and the resulting “mini super-garlic cornichons” are delicious on their own or added to salads and vegetable platters.

– 25-35 garlic scapes, washed and cut into 2-4 cm pieces
– 2 cups white or cider vinegar
– 1 1/2 cups water
– 3 Tbsp kosher or pickling salt
– Optional: 2-3 Tbsp sugar, sprigs of fresh dill, 2 dried chiles

1. Pack the garlic scape pieces into 2 sterilized pint-sized mason jars.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, salt, and optional sugar with the 1 1/2 cups of water until simmering and the salt and sugar have dissolved.
3. Pour the warm vinegar mixture over the garlic scapes, making sure they are fully submerged. Seal the jars and let cool completely before refrigerating.
4. Allow the pickles to sit for at least 4 weeks before enjoying. They will keep for up to 1 year in the fridge.

Garlic Scape Pesto Steak Rub

Another fantastic way to use up an abundance of garlic scapes, as Chef Heidi Fink suggests, is to turn them into a pesto-like marinade for grilled steaks. The bold, garlicky flavor pairs perfectly with juicy, tender beef.

– 1 tsp fine sea salt
– 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
– 3-4 garlic scapes, chopped
– 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– 3 steaks (6-8 oz each), such as top sirloin, sirloin cap, or ribeye

1. Combine the salt, pepper, garlic scapes, and olive oil in a food processor or blender. Process until a pesto-like consistency is achieved.
2. Pat the steaks dry with paper towels and place on a plate or in a large sealable container. Rub about 1 Tbsp of the scape pesto onto each side of the steaks.
3. Refrigerate the steaks and let them marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably 4-8 hours, to allow the flavors to fully develop.
4. Grill the steaks over medium-high heat for several minutes per side, until cooked to your desired doneness. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

With these creative canning and pickling recipes, you’ll be able to preserve the bounty of your CSA share and enjoy the flavors of the season all year round. So embrace the surprises in your weekly box and get preserving!

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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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