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.

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Our first foray into CSA

We picked up our first CSA (community supported agriculture) box today.
CSAs are a way for consumers to buy directly from farmers. They pay a lump sum in the spring and are supplied with produce (and sometimes other goods) on a weekly basis throughout the growing season. Consumers support small local farmers and are rewarded with great local produce.
Golden Harvest Family Farms, located in western Kawartha Lakes, runs the Triple Cord fresh produce program and offers a pick-up in Sharon, just a few kilometres east of our home in Holland Landing.

Contents of our first CSA box.

Our first box included: mixed salad greens, radishes, green onions, beets, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and rhubarb. Because the produce pickings were a little slim, we also received a dozen eggs and a 250 mL jar of maple syrup. We made arrangements to buy a dozen eggs each week when we go to pick up our box.

I plan to dedicate some time every Monday evening to prepping and cooking the fresh produce.
Tonight, I trimmed and washed the radishes and stuck them in a container of water in the fridge – ready for snacking through out the week. The salad greens made a quick side for dinner.  I used a few chopped green onions to garnish the wild rice and vidalia onion soup I made yesterday, reheated and then broiled with a few rye bread croutons and gruyere cheese.

The rhubarb was stewed with sugar and frozen strawberries.

The long and lovely rhubarb stalks were washed, chopped and stewed with sugar and strawberries from the freezer.
I separated the beets from the greens, storing both in the refrigerator, along with rest of the produce, to use later in the week.

First rhubarb harvest

Canada red rhubarb, planted last year, photograph taken early spring.

With David’s parents visiting last weekend, I decided to harvest the first of the Canada red rhubarb I planted last spring – and make stewed rhubarb Eton mess for dessert.
I cut several stalks – although later learned you can remove them with a strong tug as well.
The stewed rhubarb I ate as a kid contained, I am positive, only two ingredients: rhubarb and white sugar.
Since whipped cream and meringue (the other two ingredients in Eton mess) are quite neutral, I decided to use the rhubarb as a vehicle for more flavour.
We had a busy day planned for Saturday (including stops at the St. Lawrence Market for fish and Mountain Equipment Co-op for our upcoming trip to Colorado), so I stewed the rhubarb and made the meringue Friday night.
The beauty of Eton mess is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s also quite pretty layered in a glass – too bad I forgot to take a photograph.

Stewed rhubarb Eton mess

Ingredients
stewed rhubarb
meringue
whipped cream

Method
Layer stewed rhubarb, meringue pieces and whipped cream in a glass.
Serve.

Stewed rhubarb
Use more or less orange rind and/or ginger depending on your taste preference.
Adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients
rhubarb, chopped into 2-cm (1-inch) pieces
80 mL (1/3 cup) brown sugar per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
5 mL (1 tsp) grated orange rind per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
5 mL (1 tsp) grated ginger per 250 mL (1 cup) rhubarb
15 mL (1 tbsp) water

Method
In a covered saucepan on high heat, bring ingredients to a boil.
Remove lid, reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is soft and desired consistency is reached, about 10 minutes.
Stewed rhubarb will keep in the fridge for at least a week. You could also freeze it.

Meringue
A meringue with two egg whites will make Eton mess to serve four.

Ingredients
egg whites
60 mL (1/4 cup) granulated sugar per egg white

Method
Preheat oven to 250 F.
Using stand mixer, whip egg whites on high until frothy. Slowly add sugar, continuing to whip, until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.
Spread on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 1 hour. Allow to cool. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Whipped cream

Ingredients
heavy (35 per cent) cream
granulated sugar

Method
Using stand mixer, whip cream (I used less than 250 mL for four servings) until soft peaks start to form. Add sugar, continuing to whip, to taste.

First ingredient: Duck

If truth be told, the subtitle for this post is Christmas Eve dinner for two. I had such good intentions to post, post, post during the holiday break, but there was always something more pressing to do (sip eggnog and brandy, make soup, listen to the radio, snuggle on the couch).
Having wrapped up all our gift and grocery shopping, David and I spent the day before Christmas at home — preparing for the trip to visit his family Dec. 25 and 26 and the arrival of my family Dec. 27.
I wanted dinner to be non-taxing, yet special.
After much inner debate, I settled on duck breast. Having never cooked or purchased it before, I called my local butcher for some information and he led me to King Cole Ducks. The home farm for this large producer is located in the north end of York Region and sells fresh, frozen and smoked duck to the public. I visited the busy store Dec. 23 and bought two fresh breasts for the very reasonable price of $8.
It provided the inspiration for a simple and seasonal yet elegant and delicious meal. We paired the duck with a jammy merlot.

Roasted butternut squash and apple soup with maple allspice sour cream.

Roasted butternut squash and apple soup with maple allspice sour cream
This was a reprise of the soup I served at Thanksgiving. Really, a vessel for more of that maple allspice sour cream. I eyeballed the proportions for the sour cream this time around and it was better than I remember.
I made the soup in the morning, reserved two generous servings to reheat for dinner and packed the rest in the freezer for later.

Mixed greens with gorgonzola and pear

Mixed greens with gorgonzola and pear
A simple salad of mixed baby romaine mixed with a white wine vinaigrette and topped with sliced pear and a generous wedge of room temperature gorgonzola.

Pan-seared duck breast with cassis compote and pan-fried Yukon gold potatoes.

Pan-seared duck breast with cassis compote
This recipe comes courtesy of Bob Blumer.
I wanted a tart fruit sauce to complement the rich duck, but not one that involved buying imported fresh fruit. I had a bottle of cassis purchased at Finger Lake Distilling during a camping trip this summer. It was fate.

Ingredients
2 boneless duck breasts
2 shallots, minced
generous splash of cassis
30 mL (2 tbsp) of black currant jam
generous splash of balsamic vinegar

High heat and a well-seasoned cast iron pan made the duck breasts plump up and sear quickly.

Method
Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit.
Using a sharp knife, score 4 (1/2-cm-deep) cuts across the skin of the duck breasts at a 45 degree angle. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat a well-seasoned skillet or non-stick pan over high heat. When pan is hot, add duck breasts, skin side down, and cook for 5 minutes or until skin is brown and crispy. Flip and cook for 2 more minutes.
Remove pan from and transfer duck breasts, skin side up, to a cooking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake on the top rack of the oven for 6 minutes.
Carefully discard all but 15 mL (1 tbsp) drippings from pan. Return pan to medium heat and add shallot. Stir occasionally for 3 minutes or until shallot begins to turn golden.
Add cassis to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon to loosen up the browned bits left by the duck. Add jam, vinegar and more black pepper, and stir occasionally for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Remove duck from the oven and slice each breast at a 45-degree angle into 1/2-cm-thick strips (properly cooked duck should resemble medium-rare steak). Arrange in a fanlike pattern on warmed plates and spoon sauce overtop. Serve immediately.

Pan-fried Yukon gold potatoes
A classic.

Ingredients
225 g (1/2 pound) Yukon gold potatoes, 1-cm dice
salt, pepper
15-30mL (1-2 tbsp) duck fat

Method
Parboil potatoes until nearly cooked but still firm. Season with salt and pepper
After searing duck breasts, transfer 15-30 mL of fat to hot pan.
Add potatoes and fry to a golden brown.
Serve with pan-seared duck breasts.

One last kick at the canning

There is really no other way to can than with the seasons. You make strawberry jam in late June, pickled beans through July and August, salsa in early September. To make strawberry jam now with those near tasteless California berries or salsa mid-winter with hothouse tomatoes and peppers is just begging to be disappointed.
If you live in Ontario and are canning local, apples mark the end of the season.
And in our house, apples mean apple butter — a thick spread of spiced apple puree that tastes as good on hot tea biscuits as it does with roast pork.
Years ago, when I was a reporter with the local community newspaper, David and I were introduced to apple butter at the Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival. As is typical at such a community fair, there was a variety of food for sale and sample. We bought grilled sausage on a bun and, as seemed fit for the occasion, topped them with apple butter.
We were hooked.

Honey apple butter.

Honey apple butter
This recipe comes from Bernardin. For the best flavour, use a combination of apple varieties. I used a blend of McIntosh, Cortland and Empire this year. Probably the best batch I ever made — I think it was 2004 — featured the heirloom yellow apples a coworker picked off the tree in his yard. He shared the fruit; I shared the butter.
This recipe makes 6 250-mL jars or 12 125-mL jars.

Ingredients
2.3 kg (5 lb) apples (McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Empire)
500 mL (2 cups) pure apple cider
15 mL (1 tbsp) ground cinnamon
2 mL (1/2 tsp) allspice
250 mL (1 cup) pasteurized honey

Method
Wash apples, remove cores and coarsely chop.
Place apples and cider in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer covered until apples are soft, about 20 minutes
Press through a sieve or food mill and measure 1875 mL (7-1/2 cups) puree.
Combine apple puree an spices in a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add honey and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until apple spread mounds on a spoon or desired thickness is reached.
Ladle into hot, sterilized 125 mL or 250 mL jars. Process in hot water canner for 10 minutes.