Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? Week 3

I'm really coming to love my weekly CSA pickups. First, it gives me a nice little high point in the middle of a long work week. Second, it gives me a chance to visit either with My Wonderful Parents or the Renaissance Man for at least an hour. Third, it involves a scenic drive through the countryside, giving me plenty of restful views and occasionally some ideas.

And did I mention the food???

Once again, the Lady Bountiful had a truly splendid array of late spring and early summer produce bagged and ready to go for her CSA customers.

This week's selection included two kinds of lettuce (Deer Tongue and Freckles), Red Russian kale, more Swiss chard, Nevis carrots (a dozen), garlic scapes, the first pint of snow peas, two quarts of strawberries (what a prolific crop this year!), and the first raw honey of the year, taken from the bees' visits to the local black locust trees.

My Dear Papa and I divided the spoils pretty evenly: we each took lettuce, half the garlic scapes, and half the strawberries. He chose the chard and the snow peas while I picked the kale and the carrots (and bought more carrots, to boot). And when it came to the honey, the Chef Mother sent down the final decision: I got it. (Thanks, Mom!)

The Lady Bountiful's weekly flyer gave a couple more recipes for cooking with greens, including a tasty-sounding wilted kale that uses orange juice, so I might have to give that a go.

In addition to all that great produce, she had also picked a tub full of chamomile in her attempt to clear out the lettuce tunnel to make way for peppers. She left the roots on for those CSA customers who wanted to plant their own, but I took what was left in the bin (I was the last customer of the day) and requested that her eldest son trim off the roots and band the stems together so that I could hang the chamomile up to dry. (He graciously held this enormous bunch of chamomile for me to photograph, though he laughed self-consciously at the idea of a "beauty queen bouquet" being forced upon a strapping young man -- what a trooper!)

After that, we wandered back to the fields and greenhouses so that I could pick as much extra chamomile as I wanted (a bundle about twice as large as the one above, thanks to the Gentleman Farmer's Eldest Son) and so My Wonderful Parents could get a better look at the starting points of all their good local meals.

In this week's newsletter, the Lady Bountiful had mentioned the rapid growth of her tomatoes, and she wasn't kidding! They've really jumped up since I last saw them a mere two weeks ago, and I'm afraid I salivated just a little to think of all the juicy red tomatoes that would be headed my way later in the season.

We lingered a little bit to talk -- about preservation, about their next plans for the farm (a pole barn? maybe a weeding machine?), about this series (since I've got them reading my blog now and probably blushing over all the completely true and honest things I say about them and their produce), and about food in general -- before My Wonderful Parents and I headed back down the road toward home.

I expect that I'll preserve about half of what I brought home this week -- drying the carrots, saving the carrot tops for stock, freezing strawberries and possibly the garlic scapes -- and focus on eating the greens to make room in the refrigerator for next week's produce.

I know the question has already come up in personal conversations as to whether the CSA actually saves me money compared to what I would buy at the local farmers' market, when you consider how much driving needs to be done each week to pick up the produce. When you consider the cost of gas these days (something I don't normally do except to smirk a little; sorry, but I'm human!), no, I'm probably not saving money by participating in the CSA.

However, I'm gaining so much more: time spent with loved ones, a restful break from the usual routine, a chance to visit a beautiful farm and a wonderful family of friends, and the opportunity to learn more about agriculture and food. And thanks to the mid-week pick-up, it helps me spread out my food preservation a little more than when I buy everything at the Saturday morning market. To me, that more than compensates for the cost of gas. (But then, I'm not the one buying the gas!)

And it certainly makes every Wednesday worth the wait!

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