New Series: Kristin Boldon Helps You Get the Most from Your CSA Box

Two summers ago, my good friend Becky made me a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) alternate — when families who picked up CSA shares at her house were out of town, I was the beneficiary. Several weeks that summer, I had a bin full of fresh, local veggies, and the pleasant challenge of figuring out what to do with them. It was a gateway experience.

So last summer I bought my own half share in a CSA for Foxtail Farm. The downsides soon became apparent. Interestingly, they weren't ones I could have predicted, like, I never had a zillion zucchini to use up in a hurry.

I found the produce lasted longer if I prepped it right away — separating turnips and radishes from their greens, cleaning the greens along with any spinach or lettuce and storing them in a bag or container with a damp paper towel. There are many websites that offer different advice on how to handle particular veggies, but with greens, I found the sooner I cleaned and stored them, the more of them were usable and the longer they lasted.

Longer lasting isn't such a benefit, though, when I had a new half-box arriving every week. When a new box arrived and I still hadn't used the last box, the veg bin in my refrigerator overflowed. It was a challenge to find ways for my husband and me to eat more, faster, especially since my two boys, three and five at the time, turned up their noses at nearly everything I made. The arrival of the new box caused anxiety, and not using up the previous box caused guilt. The whole process so stressed me out that Becky didn't even ask if I wanted to join again this year. “I thought you hated your CSA!” she exclaimed.

I didn't, though; I just didn't know how to manage it. Armed with my experience from last year along with other helpful advice, I knew I could do a much better job.

First was a suggestion from my friend Amy, who blogs at A Closer Look at Flyover Land, that a half share every OTHER week was a more manageable approach. Second, Lori Writer's “The Tyranny of the CSA Box” at Minnesota's Heavy Table sums up several other savvy strategies to enjoy the bounty without the cycle of guilt and anxiety. I was relieved to find I wasn't the only one made cranky by the weekly onslaught of fresh produce.

Here's a summary of the advice I received for getting to the bottom of the box:

1. Eat: Identify what you think you and yours can reasonably eat in a week. Figure out what can be raw or minimally prepared — greens, strawberries, snap peas, turnips, and more. Consult a few good recipe sources to get ideas to cook the rest, and for what else you'll need from the grocery or farmers' market.

2. Freeze: If your week progresses and your veg consumption does not, take another look at the bin. Things like broccoli, beans, carrots and corn can be quickly prepped, shocked in boiling water, then frozen for later use. Sauces, some soups, and baked goods freeze very well. Make tomato sauce, minestrone, or zucchini bread and freeze them to eat or give later.

3. Give: Don't like what's in your box? Don't feel like cooking and freezing? Give some or all of it away. As I learned from my summer as a CSA alternate, windfall veggies are a delight. As I learned from my first CSA summer, wasting veggies makes me feel guilty. If you're feeling behind, take a week off and offer it to a friend. You'll feel relieved; they'll feel lucky. 

Ideas and Inspiration

For recipes and ideas, these are a few sites and books I use frequently. Checking cookbooks out from the public library is a great way to try before you buy, see if the author's style suits you, and determine if the recipes work.

Smitten Kitchen — Carefully researched recipes along with drool-inducing photos make this one of my favorite sites for baking and other goodies.

101 Cookbooks —Heidi Swanson's commitment to seasonal and healthful food, her gorgeous photos, and her deep index of recipes so impressed me that I bought her cookbook...

Super Natural Cooking — by Heidi Swanson. This is a great book for those wanting to branch out with different grains, sweeteners, and other natural foods.

Food Matters by Mark Bittman. — I swear, I'm not listing this because it's this month's Simple, Good and Tasty Book Club selection. It's because Bittman, who has written for Cook's Illustrated and The New York Times, is a great recipe writer and a down-to-earth cook. The 75 recipes in the book include numerous ideas for variation, and the tone of the book is encouraging and friendly, as well as informative.

Speaking of Mark Bittman, my go-to, dead-on most useful sources for what to do with the things in my CSA box are his Minimalist columns “101 Salads for the Season” and “Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less." Just using these, I could probably eat well for the whole summer. 

Our First Box

Last week, our first half box was a colorful one. White turnips, red strawberries, orange- and yellow-stemmed chard, greens aplenty (spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, scallions, turnip greens and garlic scapes), and purple kohlrabi.

First, I removed the greens from the turnips then washed them with the lettuce, spinach and chard. I stored the chard wrapped in a damp kitchen towel, the rest in a container with a damp paper towel.

I peeled and cut the turnips into sticks, then mixed with organic baby carrots (not local, unfortunately) and slices of English cucumber from LaBore Farms for snacking at the pool.

Next was a spinach salad with strawberries, locally distributed toasted organic walnuts, radishes from the Northeast farmers' market, Wisconsin goat cheese, tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette (one teaspoon of balsamic vinegar mixed with one Tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste).

For a more substantial Caesar salad, I tossed the lettuce with a simple dressing, made by whisking together two Tablespoons of mayonnaise, one Tablespoon of lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, ¼ teaspoon minced garlic scape, salt and pepper. Then I topped each portion with shredded Wisconsin parmesan, toasted croutons, and Kadejan chicken tenders breaded with toasted crumbs from the Rustica Bakery Miche loaf I used for the croutons.

The broccoli went into a refreshing slaw, adapted from this recipe at Smitten Kitchen. I used grated kohlrabi, too. My six-year-old son actually ate it!

The rest of the greens (chard, turnip, kohlrabi) went into one of my favorite recipes from Food Matters. Pan-Cooked Greens with Tofu and Garlic might not sound exciting, but the flavor surprised and delighted me the first time we made this very adaptable recipe, to which I added a few sauteed scallions.

Finally, I made Garlic Scape Soup from a recipe in Super Natural Cooking. The soup itself is mellow and delicious, but beware. Swanson recommends garnishing with chive blossoms. Some people love them; I did not. Nibble carefully to see if they're to your taste. If not, admire their beauty and set them aside.

I gave away some of the scallions I didn't have plans for. And that got me to the bottom of the box in just over a week. Since I'm getting my half box every other week, I didn't have to worry about space. And I'll have room in the bin for other fresh and local things when I visit my farmers' market and grocery co-op this weekend.


Kristin J. Boldon lives in Northeast Minneapolis with her husband and two sons. She grew up in Central Ohio, but moved to Minnesota in 1998 from the east coast. (We're glad she stayed!) Kristin has a B.S. in Business from Georgetown University and an M.A. in Religion from Temple. In her so-called spare time, she cooks, bakes, practices yoga, reads, and writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl Detective. Her last post for Simple Good and Tasty was June is National Dairy Month: Let's Celebrate with Local Ice Cream.