Think Fresh When You Cook
Community Supported Agriculture is basically a subscription to fresh produce.
A few weeks ago a friend shared some items from her "CSA" that she knew she wouldn't be able to use up before she and her husband went out of town. I was glad to take them, because it just happened to coincide with the holidays when our kids were out of school and looking for home cooking in large quantities.
For those who are not familiar with a CSA, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is basically a subscription to fresh produce that is picked up either weekly or bi-weekly. The growers also occasionally toss in other items, such as fruit or nut butters, ciders and other treats that may be specialties of their farms.
CSAs are an amazing way to have a continuous, healthy, fresh and seasonal supply of fruits and vegetables for your family. No need to worry about what's in season or where it was grown -- if it's in your CSA box, it's being grown and eaten the way nature intended it to be -- and practically in your own back yard.
For all the positive benefits of CSAs, they can be intimidating. Most people simply don't see fresh foods in that quantity and feel overwhelmed by it all. The solution would be to try taking a half-portion of what the grower recommends for your family size. Or, split a CSA with a friend or neighbor.
Another drawback is really one of the things that make CSAs so great -- the items come directly from the ground, often with the dirt still attached. Cleaning and trimming large quantities of fresh vegetables can be tedious and time-consuming. This is not a trivial concern for a busy family where both parents work, kids have after-school activities, and no one wants to be stuck at the sink when everyone's hungry and has other things they still need to do after dinner.
The solution to that problem is to separate the cleaning of the veggies from actual dinner preparation. Set aside time during the week to clean, dry, bag and store the vegetables, so when it's dinnertime they can just be portioned out. It can be done as a family activity, sort of a veggie prep assembly line.
CSAs are becoming increasingly popular, so if you want to sign up for one you'd better do it now. Some already have waiting lists.
Our closest CSA is Harvest Valley Farms, which is located in Valencia but has a farm market in Gibsonia at 6003 Cunningham Rd. They are currently taking CSA applications, and owner Art King says they intend to sell out in 2011. What makes King's CSA unique is its flexibility. With most CSAs you take what you get, but Harvest Valley's CSA is set up more like a farmers market. Membership consists of eight items; two are mandatory, but six are flexible, so you can pick what you like.
Harvest Valley Farms may not be actively growing food right now, but King is far from idle. He's ordering seed, planning for a complex greenhouse relocation, is president of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association and speaks around the region on various agriculture-related topics.
One of the biggest fundraisers for the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association is a booth in the food court at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, which runs from Jan. 8 through 15 this year. King will be there for a few days taking his turn selling blooming onions, vegetable soup and other treats. Then, in February, he'll be giving a seminar at the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey.
His topic? Community Supported Agriculture.
How nice to have an expert in our midst.
Apples and Sauerkraut
Most CSAs run from May through September or so, but some make winter basket deliveries well into the New Year, depending upon their specialties and storage capabilities. The big treat in the CSA share that my friend gave me was a big bag of fresh sauerkraut. There was also a generous-sized portion of apples, and I had my side dish for the day.
Apples and sauerkraut are a classic dish often paired with pork, but it goes well with just about any meat, or even as dinner for those who don't need a meat main dish. It's so popular in my house that I make a double batch so the kids can have the leftovers for snacks. Most people aren't lucky enough to get fresh sauerkraut, but bagged sauerkraut is available in the refrigerated section of the supermarket and is much better than canned.
Make this dinner prep easy by investing in an apple corer/slicer, like the one in the accompanying picture. It can be purchased at virtually any store, even a supermarket, and is as easy to use as anything you'll ever have in your kitchen. Place it on the top of the apple, push down firmly, and you have instant apple slices. From there, they're super easy to peel if you want to do so. I leave the peels on.
About 1 tablespoon of oil -- safflower, canola or any good vegetable oil
4 to 5 apples, any variety, cored and sliced, then peeled, if desired
½ to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups bagged or canned sauerkraut, drained
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sprinkle with cinnamon to taste preference. Cook apples, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften and brown. Add drained sauerkraut and heat through, stirring to mix well.
Kelly Burgess has been cooking, eating and writing about it since at least 20 pounds ago. This column will emphasize quick, healthy food from (sort of) scratch, using ingredients that are easily obtained at local markets and stores.