CSA in hindsight

Peas.

Peas.

Reflecting on our first CSA (community-supported agriculture) season, I think I can call the venture a success. Even my husband, who was lukewarm to the idea, looks forward to the weekly boxes and has praised the quality of the produce.
I’ve also been impressed by the variety.

Heirloom tomato.

Heirloom tomato.

Fruit has included rhubarb, strawberries, elderberries (!), raspberries watermelon, cantaloupe and more varieties of tomatoes than I can name.
I’ve managed to tuck some away for cooler months—as elderberry syrup, stewed (and frozen) rhubarb, frozen strawberries, piquante sauce and yellow plum tomato basil preserve.

And we’ve had nearly every manner of vegetable:

  • mixed baby greens, head lettuce, swiss chard, parsley, purslane
  • green, yellow, white and red onions, garlic scapes and garlic bulbs
  • white, yellow, purple, red and sweet potatoes
  • green, purple and yellow beans, pod peas
  • radishes, daikon, carrots, beets, rutabaga, turnip
  • broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco kale and cabbage
  • sweet peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash
  • spaghetti squash, butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkins

We ate as much as we could while it was fresh. The last of the sturdier crops are in the fridge (kale, daikon, beets, Jerusalem artichoke) or cupboard (potatoes, winter squash garlic). And the rest has been picked and jarred (beans, beets, daikon) or blanched and frozen (chard, kale, peas, beans).

Sweet mini-peppers.

Mini sweet peppers.

There were also a few surprises:
Corn on the cob: It’s a staple in southern Ontario, but I was surprised to see the first of several dozens in the CSA box. It’s been boiled and barbecued, eaten with plenty of salt and pepper, frozen for winter and made into corn relish.
Shell beans: Cooked and added to soup or packed into my lunches, on salads and leftover tomato-braised chicken.
Mini sweet peppers: I sliced these into pretty rings for a tossed salad.
Purslane: An edible weed with a slight peppery taste, it’s an interesting addition to a salad.
Purple-black heirloom tomato: Made into colourful Caprese salad along with early girl and a lovely orange tomato mistakenly identified as lemon boy (both from my garden).

Lemon cucumbers.

Lemon cucumbers.

Lemon cucumber: The mild-flavoured cukes were added to a Greek salad.
Watermelon radish: A pale green skin, white inner layer and bright red centre make these radishes as pleasing to look at as to eat. I served some in a Vietnamese meal of fresh spring rolls and lettuce wraps.
Pie pumpkin: I baked, pureed and baked it again into whole grain muffins.

Watermelon radish.

Watermelon radish.

2 stoves, 2 bushels, 2 days, 52 jars of sauce

Last year, at the height of the holiday baking season, my oven stopped working. We bought a new stove and moved the old one to the garage.

This summer, my clever husband (with a little advice from his just-as-clever younger brother) modified an electrical outlet in the garage so I could plug in the old stove—which still has working burners.

Labour Day weekend, I bought two bushels of Roma tomatoes and spent two long days running up and down stairs from the kitchen, where I had as many as three large pots of tomato sauce cooking at any one time, to the garage, where I had two canners set up on my old stove.

I made two types of sauce: one with chopped onions, minced garlic, dried oregano, red chili flakes, black pepper, salt and sugar (inspired by this one from Bernardin); and a second with salt, sugar, minced garlic and a few fresh basil leaves.

The method was the same for both:
• Wash and chop tomatoes.
• Combine tomatoes and other ingredients in a large pot.
• Boil until thick. (At least a couple hours, depending on the tomatoes and the size of your pot.)
• Press sauce through a food mill to remove skins and seeds.
• Return sauce to pot, simmer until it reaches desired consistency.
• Ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Add lemon juice. (15 mL per 500 mL jar.)
• Process in water canner for 35 minutes.

At the end of two days, I had tomato splashes on every surface of my kitchen, sore calves and 52 jars of sauce lined up on a folding table in the garage. Beautiful.

I wish I had the photographic proof of this feat. But, as it was my first time canning tomato sauce, I felt I had to focus on the task at hand. And I had to move the sauce out of the garage, so David could set up his tablesaw to get started on the new hardwood floors. (Do we know how to spend week off or what?)

The top photograph shows a few jars I’ve used as decoration in my red-accented kitchen. (Storing all that sauce, along with dozens of jars of pickles, salsa, piquante sauce, relish, ketchup, plum sauce, apple butter, tomato jam, etc., requires a little creativity.)

The bottom photo was dinner on Wednesday: homemade sauce, along with some red peppers and hot Italian sausage meat, on spaghetti squash from the CSA.

CSA solution: Frittata

Incorporating the Monday CSA pick-up into our routine has required a willingness to be more flexible with meal planning.

For years, I have planned Thursday and shopped Friday for the week. But, with the majority of our produce arriving Monday (and being able to only make an educated guess at what our box will contain), a rigid meal plan has gone out the window. Instead, I am keeping our pantry and refrigerator stocked with ingredients that I can combine with vegetables and herbs from the garden to create fresh and flavourful meals.
Since most weeks, I also buy a dozen of the most beautiful (inside and out) free-range eggs from the CSA, frittatas have become a regular weeknight dinner.

Here’s my method:
In a cast iron pan at medium-high heat, sauté sliced or diced onions in a little oil.
Add whatever vegetables are available (chopped new potatoes, sliced zucchinis, broccoli florets, asparagus spears, halved cherry tomatoes).
While vegetables are cooking, whisk together four large eggs.
Add salt, pepper and a flavour booster or two – chopped spinach, diced roasted red peppers, a couple spoonfuls of pesto or herbs such as parsley, chives or basil.
Turn heat down, arrange vegetables evenly in pan and add egg mixture.
When frittata starts to firm around edges, top with grated or crumbled cheese (old cheddar, feta, Parmesan, etc.).
Bake in 350 Fahrenheit oven until top is set.
Let cool slightly before slicing.
Serve with a side of CSA vegetables, such as salad greens, steamed green beans, sliced tomatoes or kale chips.

Last week, I started with young red onions and new red potatoes (which I par-cooked in the microwave) from the CSA, added roasted red peppers from a jar in the fridge and topped with crumbled feta.

 

Garden report 4: Post-holiday

Pickling cucumbers are flowering and fruiting.

For more than a decade, early July has meant a road trip for David and I.
An annual vacation requires a little strategic thinking when it comes to the edible garden. First, you need to find a neighbour, friend, housesitting service or local kid with an entrepreneurial spirit to do some watering.
Second, you want to plan your plantings so that you don’t miss the harvest.
For example, the garden at our old house included a sizable (and naturally, aggressively expanding) strawberry patch planted by the previous homeowners. Strawberry season in that part of Ontario usually lands in early July – which meant most of our crops were consumed by the birds. The friend who often watered our garden (and was instructed to please please pick and eat whatever was ready) during our absence was allergic to strawberries. At our current house, I planted blueberries and raspberries.
Third, you want to do some pre-holiday prep.

Freshly picked lettuce greens, ready for salad, sandwiches or even soup.

In the week leading up to this year’s vacation, we ate lettuce – in salads, sandwiches and even a fantastic soup (recipe to come, I promise) – nightly. The night we left, I picked, chopped and bagged for the freezer any suitable Swiss chard as well as the small amount of pak choi I was able to rescue from the beetles. I will use both is soups this winter.
I also weeded diligently, trimmed the last of the scapes from my garlic and ensured the tomatoes were supported by their spirals.

I am always amazed by the results of two weeks of summer sunshine on my garden. I came home (more than two weeks ago now) to tomato plants doubled in size and weighted down by (mostly still green) fruit, replenished Swiss chard and lettuce greens and jalapenos, beans and zucchini ready to pick and eat.

The start of the cherry tomato harvest.

Garden Report 3

I’ve let a little too much time pass between reports — but I got behind on the weeding and busy with spring chores and social engagements.
But, without further ado, here’s where we’re at.

Asparagus ferns.

The asparagus plot is doing nicely. Each crown sent up a few slender stalks that turned to wispy ferns. Its location at the east of our vegetable garden and back of our lot is perhaps a little less than perfect. Keeping the weed seeds that blow in from the no-man’s land behind our property from taking over is an ongoing challenge.

Pak choi.

My greens – particularly the pak choi and to a lesser extent the Swiss chard – were hard hit by an invasion of flea beetles. I searched the web for eco-friendly solutions – one suggested planting pak choi as a diversion crop since it’s practically irresistible to the tiny jumping bug. But I want to eat it. So I used an old all-purpose standby – a mixture of onion, garlic, hot sauce, dish soap and water. It seems to me making a difference, but I’m afraid much of the pak choi could not be saved.

Early early girl tomato.

Everything else is growing like mad. All the seeds – carrots, parsnips, green beans, zucchini, summer squash, cucumber and pumpkins – have sprouted. The tomatoes are starting to bloom and I see a few green fruit on the early girls. Same goes for the Thai chile and jalapeno peppers. My garlic is just beginning to produce scapes.

As long as I can manage any further pest infestations and keep up with the watering the long, hot summer this is shaping up to be will require, it should be a good harvest.

Pork and beans

David works an afternoon shift half the time, which means I’m alone to make and eat dinner (and leave his in the fridge to be reheated, if necessary, or just eaten as is at about midnight). These meals are often vegetarian (or minimal meat) versions of the following: big salad, grain salad, grains and veggies, soup and pork and beans. Well, actually, pork and legumes … and turkey and legumes.

Chickpea stew.

Chickpea stew (pork and legumes)
This recipe stems from my love of chickpeas. Olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and cumin seemed obvious, as I always add them to my hummus. Onions or shallots, peppers (and sometimes chopped celery) and tomatoes add flavour, nutrients and body. And bacon keeps David (who is not quite as enthusiastic about chickpeas) happy.
The first time I made it, he told me the next day, “It looked like I wouldn’t like it, but I did.” High compliments indeed.

Ingredients
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 28-oz can tomatoes, chopped (or the equivalent of garden fresh or frozen Romas)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
10 mL (2 tsp) cumin
15 mL (1 tbsp) lemon juice (or more to taste)
250 mL (1 cup) whole-wheat couscous
olive oil
salt and pepper

Method
Boil 500 mL (2 cups) water in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add a splash of olive oil, then couscous. Cover and let sit until couscous has absorbed water. Fluff with a fork before serving.
In a large pan over medium heat, fry bacon until cooked. (We like it slightly pliable, but if you like it crispy, go for it.) Drain bacon grease.
Put a little olive oil in the pan. Add onions/shallots and peppers, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Add cumin and garlic, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add chickpeas and tomatoes and simmer until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add lemon juice. Stir. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice.
Ladle stew over couscous and serve.

Lentils and kielbasa.

Lentils and kielbasa (turkey and legumes)
This recipe is adapted from CookThink.com
I’ve upped the vegetables and Dijon and cut back on the kielbasa.
I find frying turkey kielbasa until browned dries it out, so I recommend a light sauté for a little colour and flavour.
Sometimes I add chopped fresh tomatoes to this dish before serving.

Ingredients
375 mL (1-1/2 cup) green lentils, picked through and rinsed
250 g turkey kielbasa, cut in half length-wise and thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
45 mL (3 tbsp) olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) red wine vinegar
15 mL (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 mL (2 tsp) chopped fresh marjoram or 2 mL (1/2 tsp) dried or ground

Method
Combine lentils and 1 L (4 cups) of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When water boils, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain.
In a large pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kielbasa and sauté for a few minutes until warmed through and slightly brown. Remove.
In the same pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt and pepper; cook 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Add onions, garlic and marjoram; cook until vegetables are tender, stirring often.
Add lentils to pan with vegetables. Stir in kielbasa, vinegar, remaining olive oil and mustard.
Serve.

CSA report: Week 2

CSA, Week 2

What a difference one week can make on the farm.
In addition to asparagus, radishes, spring onions and mixed greens, which we received last week, this week’s CSA bounty included butterhead and romaine lettuces, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, grape tomatoes and strawberries.
I also bought another dozen eggs and a jar of honey.
Because the box is packed and waiting for pick-up, you don’t know what you’re getting until you get home and open it up. As I drove home last night, smiling and looking forward to the big reveal, I thought, “I’m never this excited/happy when I leave the grocery store.”

Here’s a breakdown of how we used last week’s box:
Asparagus: roasted with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper for dinner side
Beets: raw, sliced in slaw with fennel, apples, mint, canola oil, balsamic vinegar
Beet greens: chiffonade in soup with sausage, carrots, celery, red pepper, spring onion (whites and greens), marjoram, tomatoes, chicken stock
Eggs: lemon pound cake (five); Caesar dressing (one); corn cakes (three)
Jerusalem artichokes: not yet used; roasted?
Maple syrup: not yet used
Radishes: snacks
Rhubarb: stewed with strawberries, eaten mixed with plain yogurt; more in the freezer
Salad greens: five small salads (lunch and dinner)
Spring onions: greens in salad, bok choy and pork stirfry, corn cakes, soup; whites in soup and alfredo vegetable sauce