At this mid-summer point, the fruits and veggies are pouring in from the fields and orchards, hinting at the deluge to come in a couple more weeks. This abundance can overwhelm even the most determined CSA share members and farmers market shoppers, but Deborah DeBord gives us some terrific ideas for handling this seasonal bounty. —Mi Ae
Before the Harvest
- Collect plastic grocery bags and boxes for the upcoming harvest and pickup.
- Round up plenty of older clean kitchen towels that have not been used previously as cleaning rags.
- Stock the pantry with staples. Then everything will be at your reach later without your having to make trips to the grocery store (such as flours, sugars, cornmeals, pasta, grains, spices, dried herbs, seeds, yeasts, dried beans, ethnic pastes, and sauces).
- Sharpen your knives and test your equipment, such as your food processor and salad spinner.
- Clean out the fridge, giving it a really good wipe-down. Brutally discard scrips and scraps that are taking up room and waiting for you to, well, throw them away.
- Inventory the freezer for useful remainders, wistfully discarding truly out-of-date items.
- Join any recipe, cooking, or CSA farm newsletters or e-lists available. This way you can skim for ideas and see what other folks are doing.
At the Farm or Farmers Market
- If you pick up your goodies at a farm you subscribe to or shop at a farmers market or farm stand, consider the visit a community experience, not just a food pickup. Be mindful of all that went into the appearance of these fine foods on your behalf.
- Contemplate the rhythms of choosing and planting seeds, watering, weeding, blocking, covering, harvesting, counting, and sorting.
- Visit the farm a bit hungry. Inspiration will come to you.
- Bring plenty of boxes and bags, including smaller bread bags for keeping herbs or greens separate for easy identification at the sink.
- Don’t be a scaredy-cat. Pick everything up and learn about it later. (Our Bounty from the Box cookbook can help with that!)
- Watch the “eaches,” “ounces,” and “pounds.” It will make a difference to those coming after you.
- Talk to others at the farm or at the market about what they are doing with the harvest. They might have surprises.
- Wink and give thanks as you leave.
At the Sink
- Lay two retired, clean bath towels on the counter: one for vegetables needing immediate or early-in-the-week use, and the other for veggies that will keep a little longer.
- Wash and trim all the veggies and lay them out on the towel in the order of fragility or planned use. (Incidentally, trimming beets and carrots will stop the leaves from leaching out the sugars.)
- Wash even the trimmings and put them aside for the freezer—they make great starts for future soup stock.
- Nibble things raw as you wash them to get an idea of flavor profiles. You might have never tasted spinach this fresh—or known how sweet it can be.
- As you wash and trim, start putting recipe ingredients together in your mind, matched with your week’s work and family schedule.
- Plan for rhythms that don’t bunch heavy preps one after another in consecutive meals. Intersperse easier, quicker meals in between.
- Notice that nature huddles up things that taste good together, such as eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers. Or greens and garlic scapes.
- Process a few tantalizing ingredients immediately for tonight’s supper. For example, shell the peas and slice the carrots directly into a skillet for a quick tofu stir-fry over brown rice.
- Allow everything to dry before storing it. A salad spinner extracts all of the moisture from the greens, which makes them last longer.
- Sort out the dry-storage items such as onions and garlic before packaging the rest for the fridge.
- Group the veggies on the towels according to some idea of preps for the week and how soon they need to be consumed.
- Working deftly, prep some veggies for a meal or two for a quick worknight pullout. For example, line a plastic container with paper towels and fill it with cubed beets, carrots, onions, and turnips for a root-crop roast.
- Another idea is to flip the edges of the bath towel over the veggies like a wrap. Then roll the towel up from one end, capturing the veggies inside and store the whole thing in the fridge. As the week unfolds, unroll the towel to select tonight’s supper.
In the Fridge and Freezer
- The refrigerator temperature should be at or below 40°F (4°C) but not below freezing. Do not crowd the contents, especially toward the back of the refrigerator; this will cause the circulation to drop and freezing to occur.
- The freezer temperature should be 0°F (-18°C) or below. A freezer works more efficiently if it is at least half full.
- Check the temperatures periodically with an appliance thermometer, especially during the harvest season. Some folks bring the fridge temp down a notch during this busy time, especially if they want to keep the veggies fresh a bit longer (many of them do not like being too cold).
- If the electricity goes out, do not open the fridge or freezer any more than absolutely necessary. The freezer will keep foods at the appropriate temperature for 48 hours if not disturbed. After that, raw and fresh vegetables can be refrozen with hope for good results. Meats and seafood should be thawed properly in the refrigerator and cooked, or else discarded. Resist the temptation to say, “Oh, well, it should be okay; after all, it’s only been four days.” Deep freezers can be covered on top with a layer of the manufacturer’s recommended amount of dry ice and wrapped with a quilt, keeping air vents free in the back.
- Clean out the refrigerator from time to time. Find those lost greens and toss them. Wipe down the shelves and drawers when they are at their emptiest—just before a visit to the farm.
- An extra few minutes spent jotting down your contributions to the freezer help to keep wintertime happy and delicious. A clipboard with freezer sections marked off, such as one page for the upper drawer, one page each for the lower drawers left and right, and so forth, are easy to keep. Then mark off items as you take them out. This minimizes digging and loss and maximizes the variety of choice months down the road.
In Your Kitchen at the Prep Counter
- Invite extra hands. Kids, neighbors, and friends lend a festive fringe. The kitchen is not a desert island. That said, a bit of time to yourself can be restorative.
- Let the veggies whisper in your ears and suggest their own preps, such as fresh salad, simple steams, stir-fries, casseroles, and roasted concoctions.
- When you run across an interesting recipe, pay more attention to the technique than the ingredients. Lists of ingredients can be matched up with what you have picked up this week. For example, leeks and onions are interchangeable. Roots will stand in for one another. Broccoli and cauliflower are siblings (literally and in the kitchen). Spices, seeds, and herbs can be rounded up culinarily in families with similar profiles. And grains also like to volunteer for their cousins for a different slant on a prep.
- Think “off the recipe card.” For example, “pesto” anything green that doesn’t move, using different kinds of nuts and infused oils.
- Tweak, tinker, and experiment while keeping a few go-to favorites for that too-tired-to-wiggle night.
- On the days that you are given just a few pieces of something as a preview of what’s about to come in, pair them with something not usually thought of as a companion. For example, you might simmer those two beets you got until tender, adding the seven green beans during the last 2 minutes. Then slice and crumble a little goat cheese and herbs, dress the beets and green beans, and serve everything as a warm salad.
On the Stove, in the Oven, or at the Grill
- Keeping vegetables as close to their original raw state as possible will preserve their nutrients and flavors. A quick blanch, steam, or stir-fry seals in the goodness.
- A hot-oven roasting or grilling seals in liquids and sugars, encouraging the flavors to pop.
- And here’s a tip you might not be familiar with: Cook firmer lettuces—no kidding. They enjoy performing in stir-fries, braises, soups, steamed purees, and, yes, grills.
In the Fancy Pantry, Freezer, Drying Closet
Putting a harvest by can be a bit chaotic while simultaneously processing it for current use. But boy, howdy, is it ever worth it. Dancing just as fast as you can during a busy-busy spring, summer, and autumn is a real trick that will help keep the eye on the prize. Since fruits and veggies often arrive primo-ready at this time of year, try to carve out some time each week to freeze, dry, or can for the winter months. An efficient use of time begs you to prepare something now but to triple and quadruple the prep so you can squirrel away extra for future use. The successful techniques: extracting moisture and air, storing and packaging concisely, and keeping an inventory of labeled and dated goods.
Here are a few examples that we enjoy all the rest of the year until the harvest rolls around again.
- Herb Straws: When you pinch back herbs to encourage them to bush out, freeze the surplus trimmings in itty-bitty plastic snack bags with 2 to 3 tablespoons of good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil. When these thaw in the stir-fry skillet, their aroma is quite fresh. Combinations of basil and lemon thyme, cilantro and parsley, or rosemary and chives make wonderful winter choices.
- Pestos: Pound anything green that will stand still for you, along with nuts, cheese, and oil. They freeze well in ½-cup portions for pasta, pizzas, and casseroles.
- Greens: Freezing softball-size wads of blanched spinach, chard, or other greens gives you just the right size for a cooked prep. Getting absolutely all the air and moisture out is essential. They’ll stand up well for you in dishes such as savory chard cheesecake.
- Pasta/Pizza Sauce: Roast great quantities of high-season veggies spritzed with oil for 45 minutes at 400°F at the same time and freeze them in dinner-size portions; this leaves you with a divine go-to supper starter. Our favorite is whole tomatoes, whole heads of garlic, eggplant cubes, sliced zucchini, herbs, and wine, roasted and mooshed together and simmered.
- Stuffed Peppers: Any kind of pepper of any color and heat can be stuffed and frozen. For stuffings, we enjoy a good meatloaf with greens, other veggies, rice, fruits, and nuts. We wrap the stuffed peppers individually in plastic wrap when raw and then corral them into larger freezer bags.
- Peach Vinegar: Macerate the leftover peaches from a canning project in aged balsamic vinegar for 6 weeks. Strain, and voilà. It keeps nicely for months in the fridge.
- Dried Fruit: Drying scraps of apples and pears leftover from other projects at 165°F for 8 hours provides excellent fruit additions to casseroles, stir-fries, and breads.
—By Deborah DeBord, Ph.D, from Picked at the Peak