CSA tips and tricks

Image: "Clagett Farm CSA Week 18", a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from galant's photostream

Each week, I blog about what I got in my CSA box and what I do with it.  After reading this Slate piece by an overwhelmed CSA member, I thought maybe I should also write about the tips that help me figure out how to handle my weekly deluge of fresh, local produce.

  • The goal is not to love every item, but to find a way to eat every item. That might sound a little strange, but hear me out.  I don’t like turnips. I don’t really like rutabagas.  If I were just shopping the Farmer’s Market or grocery store, I’d probably never eat a turnip, a rutabaga, or even greens like collards or kale.  However, part of the appeal of the CSA experience is trying new things, and I consider it my mission to find at least one way I can eat every item without hating it.  The author mentions her struggle with turnips. I share that struggle.  I’ve hidden them in chowders, put them into risottos, and even snuck them into pot pies.  For me, they need to be part of an ensemble of other veggies that hide their turnipy flavor.  The same is true for mustard greens.  I don’t really like them by themselves, but I’ve discovered that, covered in cheese in a frittata, they’re pretty tasty!
  • The internet is your friend. Not sure what to do with collard greens? Get thee to Epicurious.  Sites like Epicurious, The Kitchn, and AllRecipes are the keys to CSA success.  You just type in “collard greens” into the search bar, and tons of recipes will pop up.  Read the reviews on the recipes, and don’t be afraid to experiment and substitute. A recipe calls for celery and you don’t have any? Maybe you can add in a little celery seed for flavor, or substitute a similar watery, crunchy veggie in its place.  You don’t have the herb they call for? Try substituting something you do have!  And don’t be afraid to Google for substitutions either– it’s how I learned I can make my own buttermilk if needed for a recipe by simply adding vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk!
  • Make a plan of attack. It helps to make time on the day you usually pick up your CSA box to plan and do prep work for the week’s worth of meals. On the day you get your CSA box, lay everything out.  Figure out which things are most perishable, and plan to eat those first. Estimate what you can reasonably eat in one week, and make plans to give away or preserve (via freezing, pickling, or canning) what you can’t.  Don’t feel bad about giving away your produce if you know you can’t eat it! You may help win new subscribers for your CSA program that way!  Use the aforementioned recipe websites to find recipes for each meal, then head to the grocery store to get things you might need to fill in. Look at any recipes that might take longer than an hour and see if you can do any prep work ahead of time to ensure faster meals later.
  • Learn to pickle. Seriously. Pickles are a great way to preserve your produce, and they’re a great thing to give away to help lighten your load. You can pickle cucumbers, squash, peppers, onions, carrots, green beans… anything.  I’m a big fan of spicy refrigerator dill pickles and summer squash bread and butter pickles (doesn’t have to be used with squash).  You don’t have to spend all day boiling them in jars, either– just keep them in their brine in the fridge for a few weeks.  They’ll get pickle-ier as time goes on, but they won’t go bad. You don’t even need jars! I make my personal-use pickles in large re-used yogurt tubs. Updated to add: Don’t stress if you can’t find pickling salt. My research has shown that kosher salt will work just fine, it just might result in cloudier brine and less-green cukes. They will still taste great.
  • Make friends with your freezer! Another great way to save veggies for a later day is to make up a big batch of soup, pasta sauce, or ratatouille and freeze it flat in a ziplock bag for a later day.  We ate frozen soups and sauces all winter long.  I even froze shredded zucchini to use in zucchini bread after the season was over.
  • Have some stand-bys. Every week, I eat at least one stir-fry made with any variety of veggies, using a simple sauce that uses any and all of the following: soy sauce, honey, lemon/lime juice, sesame oil, sriracha, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes.  Another good standby is a frittata using a variety of veggies.  Another is to saute veggies with garlic and herbs and serve them over pasta with parmesan or feta cheese.  These meals will carry you through when you just can’t be bothered to try something new and fun with your produce.
  • Have fun. Don’t let yourself feel too guilty about greens wilting in your fridge. Some days, you just aren’t feeling it, and that’s fine. I’m little miss CSA, and I still eat popcorn for dinner on occasion.  If possible, try to give away your excess produce to someone who will eat it, but don’t beat yourself up if something goes bad before you use it.  Compost it if possible!

Are you a CSA member? Do you have any tips to share? Questions you’d like me to answer?

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5 thoughts on “CSA tips and tricks

  1. Every time you do your CSA posts I think I must be a crazy person for not already belonging to one! You make everything – even veggies I don’t like – look delicious. As soon as our farmer’s market opens for the summer I’m going to be making so many pickles I won’t know what to do with them and throwing kale into everything I cook.

    Do you think in general, the CSA saves you money? Becoming a member around here seems sort of pricey (especially since it would involve a 45-minute drive to pick it up) and I can’t really figure out how to do the math. I know a large part of the benefit is eating incredibly healthy, local produce – and eating a lot more of it than you would without the CSA – but I think I’d need to prove to my husband it would be to our financial benefit before he would be totally on board.

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    • For us, I think it works out to be about the same as we’d be spending otherwise. Our box works out to around $25 per week, and as you can see, it could definitely be feeding more than just the two of us. Back when I was able to freeze things, each week of the CSA would up being at least 2 weeks worth of eating for us. It helps that I pick up my box around the corner from my house, so there’s no transportation cost there. Any of the money that would be a savings for us is used to buy more expensive cheese, eggs, dairy, and meat than I would otherwise be able to afford. One reason we have the super large box? My deal-minded hubby thought it was a “better deal.”

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  2. Great advice! I am also a CSA member and have struggled with the same issues. Besides canning and freezing, I have also tried dehydrating herbs and hot peppers (even grinding them up and creating spice mixes for presents) and have roasted peppers and tomatoes and preserved them in olive oil in the fridge. Just make sure all of the fruit/ veg is submerged.
    Check out my blog for some other tips and recipes. I look forward to reading more!

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  3. I’ve been a csa member for a couple years now, and I think what I’ve learned is to get over the idea that dinner is a meat, a starch, and a green veggie. I wouldn’t have thought that was so ingrained in me, but I guess it is. Last night we had some friends over for tacos, and my first thought would have been to serve rice and beans on the side, but we had a ton of corn and summer squash, so I grilled both of those and they were our sides. I’ve made meals of veggie risotto with two veggie sides. Just fix them, serve them, and if there’s leftovers, eat em for lunch.

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