Tips from Kristine’s Kitchen (Mr. Ben’s Wife)

Fresh Asparagus in Spring

Fresh Asparagus in Spring

Hello everyone. This is the third-generation “farmer’s wife” and I’m here to share a little with you about new ways to make good use of all the delicious produce you’re receiving each week in your Miller Farms CSA crate. For some of you home kitchen experts and “foodies,” what I suggest won’t be news at all, but for those of you who, like me, didn’t grow up on a steady diet of fresh seasonal farm produce, maybe a few tips might help. Believe it or not, as the “farmer’s wife,” one might expect that I would know exactly what to do with those massive bags of collards, or those interesting-looking kohlrabi, but just like you, I’ve had to learn! With each weekly CSA crate, I’ve had to survey the items and figure out what I’m going to do with them. Some items are more puzzling than others, but we all have a “secret weapon.” My mother-in-law, Jo Miller, has plenty of experience and a ready supply of seasonal recipes that are proven winners. We, at Miller Farms, want to not only provide you with the opportunity to include more of our healthy produce in your diet, we also want to share ways to help you manage and prepare that produce. We want you to be able to use what’s in your CSA crate to its full advantage, and to get your money’s worth from all the nutritious, delicious items we provide.

Your half-share or full-share may seem like more fresh produce than you’re used to eating. We harvest our produce at its peak, rather than drawing out the harvesting process and giving you less than our best each week. There might be more of an item or two than you can eat in just one week, but that’s the beauty of a seasonal CSA. We harvest what’s ready, when it’s ready, and pass the bounty along to you. With modern conveniences, we don’t have to eat all of everything that’s ready right away, like our great-grandparents did. So what’s a person to do with all the extra?

Because we’re aware that eating additional fresh produce will make a positive difference in your overall health, we generally suggest the following options:

  1. Weekly Plan: Develop a weekly menu plan that incorporates fresh, seasonal produce into at least two meals each day. In our house menu planning is a must if I want to be sure to include more vegetables (‘cause we farm wives and kids don’t necessarily gravitate toward veggies!) Most of the meals are planned with typical seasonal produce items in mind, like Broccoli Cheese Soup, Chili and Cornbread, or Sweet Potato Hash Browns with Scrambled Eggs. I’ve also designated at least two meals a week for those more unusual items found in the crate. Most of the time these items can be incorporated into dishes I’m already making, but if not, I have an assortment of seasonal recipes ready to be used depending on what I find in my CSA crate. Recipes like Kohlrabi Gratin, Stuffed Squash, and Pumpkin Soup come in handy here.
  2.  Gather Recipes: Building on the last option, you might want to gather a few new recipes to try out, especially if you’re not accustomed to cooking with certain items in your crate. Our weekly CSA insert always contains tips and suggested ways to prepare your CSA items for that week, but a small collection of recipes might help add variety and some new favorites in the kitchen.
  3.  Separate and Prepare: Separate and prepare (as much as possible) the more abundant items in your CSA crate before you think you might need them. If you’re overwhelmed by the size or amounts of certain kinds of produce you’re receiving, and don’t know where to begin, try separating the produce into meal-sized or recipe-sized portions. You could use Ziploc baggies, plastic containers, or glass containers to “organize” your produce for individual meals. To retain freshness, you don’t need to wash the produce before you separate it. Washing should happen right before you use the produce in a recipe. For example, if you plan to toss some of that iron-rich kale into a Ham and Navy Bean Soup, you might not want to wait until the day you make that soup to pull out your huge baggie of kale. It might seem overwhelming to tackle that baggie then. Try pulling it out of your CSA crate or the refrigerator a few days before you plan to use it, when you have an extra few minutes and your hands aren’t busy (on the phone, supervising homework or other tasks, watching the news, etc.) If you have kitchen helpers like I do, this is a great job for them. Peel the kale off of its stem and chop it into small pieces, and then gather those pieces into your container. Containers can be organized in a designated refrigerator space and pulled out as needed during the week. Another benefit to separating and prepping your produce before you need it, is that you can toss it into already-planned dishes on your menu. The already-chopped fresh kale can be sprinkled into a garden salad, soup, or layered in a lasagna or other pasta dish, without changing the flavor of the dish and yet adding to the overall nutritional value.
  4.  Canning: Learn the always-in-fashion art of home canning, to preserve your fresh fruits and vegetables for use during the long winter months. Even when supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables are down, our nutritional needs remain the same. If we can find a few hours to can some of those fruits and veggies, they will retain their fresh goodness for us to enjoy through the winter.
  5.  Freezing: If you can’t find the time for home canning (like me, with seven children and a busy home schooling schedule), freezing produce is a wonderful option! For all that yummy produce that you aren’t able to use right away, there’s always the freezer to keep it fresh and handy until you can pull it out again. Right now there are countless baggies of peppers, chopped tomatoes, corn, and beans in my freezer, ready for soups, stews, casseroles, and side-dish recipes, and all of which will no-doubt be gone by the spring. There’s no trick to cooking a pumpkin and mashing, pureeing, or pressing it through a food mill, and then straining it in a colander before bagging it up for the freezer. We eat from our ready supply of frozen pumpkin, rich in vitamins A and C, in Pumpkin Soup, Pumpkin Bread, and other baked goodies, all winter long.
  6.  Share: You can also share your CSA with friends, family, or neighbors. If your half-share is still too much produce for you to consume and/or store, you can always divide the share with others as you see fit. If you’ve determined that a smaller share is just right for you, this option might be the way to go.

We hope that this list of CSA-related suggestions will be helpful. It might take some time to adjust to a new way of eating fresh produce grown and harvested seasonally, but we’re in this adventure with you. Ultimately, we want you to experience a good value in your investment in our farm, and in your health.