By Chef Andrea Yoder
Welcome to the 2018 CSA Season! Whether this is your first year “eating out of the box” or you are a seasoned veteran with years of experience, we hope you enjoy this journey of seasonal eating adventures. Learning to eat “out of the box” is a transition for your mind as well as your palate. Many of our longtime members tell us it takes a good three years to make the solid transition to change the way you approach mealtime as you build your meals and menus around the seasonal produce in your CSA box. Seasonal eating is not some new concept recently developed, it’s how our ancestor previously ate out of necessity! This way of eating makes us more aware of the seasonal changes in our environment. We look to the fields, or to our storage areas throughout the winter, to find the ingredients we’ll build our meals upon. In doing so, we can enjoy a wide variety of vegetables that are at their peak of freshness in their season and nourish our bodies in just the right way during that time of the year.
Early spring can be a challenging time of the year to eat local, seasonal food. Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of going to the grocery store to purchase produce shipped in from other parts of the country during the winter. They had to store food from their fall harvests to sustain them until the next growing season. In the spring time, when their stores of winter root vegetables had dwindled, I’m sure they looked forward to the return of fresh, spring food. While the start of every spring can be difficult, this year in particular has been very challenging! This year spring came very late and we set a new record for the latest day to start working in the fields! We started on April 25, a full week later than our previous record-setting date. Thankfully we’ve been able to get a lot of crops planted and have really made some good progress, but it will be at least another 4 weeks or so before we can harvest anything from these plantings. Chef Joshua McFadden, in his book entitled Six Seasons, calls this time of year the “hunger gap.” “The ‘hunger gap’ is the period between the end of winter and beginning of spring vegetables. You’re either sick of winter vegetables or you’ve consumed them all, and you can’t wait for the first radishes and lettuces of spring to appear.” Thankfully, we have some other options and tactics we can employ to help us bridge this gap. While we’re waiting for the spring planted crops to mature, we continue to rely on storage vegetables such as black Spanish radishes, as well as overwintered root crops including sunchokes and parsnips. We also look to our wild areas where we can forage edible plants such as ramps. Lastly, we rely on perennial vegetables and fall-planted crops to bridge this gap. These are crops that are planted in the field and can survive a Midwestern winter. They start growing in the spring long before any other spring planted vegetable will be ready. These crops include chives, potato onions, Egyptian walking onions, green garlic, asparagus, sorrel and nettles. So while it might seem like slim-pickings this time of year, we still have plenty to sustain and nourish us!
We realize many members may not be familiar with the vegetable selections in this week’s box, but we want to reassure you that we are here to help you! We usually feature one vegetable each week in our newsletter and on our blog. Since this week’s box contains some unique selections, we couldn’t decide on just one vegetable to feature! So, we’re going to walk you through this week’s box and share a little more information about each one. We’ve featured nearly all of these vegetables in previous newsletters, so if you’re interested in reading more about a particular selection, please refer to the newsletter archive section on our website where you’ll be able to view these articles. I’ve provided links for you throughout the remainder of the article.
Lets tackle these mysterious looking Black Spanish Radishes first. These are the vegetable that have the black skin and resemble a turnip. Yes, the skin is supposed to be black! This is a storage radish with a tremendous ability to store for months. We harvested these late last fall and have kept them in cold storage. There are very few vegetables we grow that have a storage capability as long as Black Spanish Radishes. They are just as good now as they were five or six months ago! This is a pungent radish with a bit of a horseradish flavor. The flesh is dense, crisp and white. They may be eaten raw or cooked. If you are a radish-lover, you’ll likely appreciate their strong bite. If you aren’t as keen on the flavor of a strong radish, you’ll want to consider cooking them or peeling them to lessen the pungency. Cooking mellows the radish flavor significantly and you’ll actually taste more of their sweetness. You can roast, steam or saute black Spanish radishes, but they are also good added to soups, stews and other cooked preparations. If you are eating them raw, slice them thinly and eat them with a bit of salt or layer them on a piece of good bread with some butter for a radish sandwich. You can also shred or dice the radish and mix them into sour cream to make a nice condiment for beef, lentils, pork, etc.
Sunchokes are another unique vegetable in this week’s spring lineup. These are the knobby root vegetables that kind of resemble ginger or a potato. We left some of last year’s crop in the field to “overwinter” and harvested them this spring. It was a hard winter for overwintered vegetables and we are seeing some surface skin discoloration on this year’s crop. It is only on the surface, so simply peel off the skin and you’ll find a dense, white, crisp flesh inside. They have a mild, nutty flavor and may be eaten raw or cooked. When cooked, sunchokes can be prepared in any way you might prepare a potato. They are excellent when roasted, but also make a nice smooth cream soup. They are also good in stir-fry and resemble a water-chestnut for this use. If you prefer to eat them raw, you can use them in salads, or turn them into a salsa-type condiment. This next bit of information is important, so listen up. Sunchokes contain a non-digestible fiber called inulin which is actually a pre-biotic nutrient and very beneficial for our health. Prebiotics are an important food source for the beneficial bacteria in our large intestine. While the health benefits are great, some people do experience abdominal discomfort and flatulence when they eat sunchokes. In some individuals, the response is dose-dependent, so if you are eating sunchokes for the first time, do so in small quantities until you see what your body’s response will be. I like to use sunchokes in small quantities in preparations where they can be a complement to the food I’m serving instead of the main attraction. I wrote a more extensive article about sunchokes in our May 14, 2016 newsletter which you’ll find on our website. I also included a recipe in that newsletter for a sunchoke salsa that is easy to make and can be used as a condiment to enhance fish, chicken and beef dishes. You can also serve it with tacos or eat it with your scrambled eggs and toast in the morning.
|Overwintered parsnips ready to come out of the ground!|
Ramps are an exciting spring delicacy that has become more recognized and popular over time. We do not cultivate ramps. They grow on wooded hillsides in our valley and we wild-harvest them. They are one of the first beacons of spring that we see and have a very short season of availability ranging from 3-5 weeks at most. Ramps have a lily-like leaf with an onion-like bulb on the bottom. They have a distinct onion/garlic flavor that is best described as “rampy.” You can eat both the leaf and the bulb, you only need to trim away the root end. When eaten raw, ramps have a very pungent, sharp flavor. Once they are cooked the flavor mellows a bit. There are many ways you can use ramps and I’ve found that most people who know ramps have their list of favorite ramp recipes that they make every year. Ramps pair well with eggs, so one of the easiest ways to enjoy them is in scrambled eggs. They are also excellent when used in pasta dishes or risotto and they pair well in any preparation that includes cream, mushrooms and other spring vegetables such as asparagus and spinach. The leaves are very delicate, so wrap your bunch of ramps in a damp paper towel and store them in the refrigerator. If you’d like to read more about ramps, including our methods for sustainable harvests, refer to the newsletter article we wrote last year on April 22, 2017.
Finally, we come to two more familiar vegetables—overwintered spinach and chives. We look forward to overwintered spinach every year as it is the most flavorful, sweet spinach of the year. The spinach was planted last fall and we are harvesting the new growth from those plants this spring. The leaves on overwintered spinach are thick, yet tender. After a long winter without greens, spinach salads are a refreshing treat! If you aren’t a salad eater, consider using the spinach on sandwiches or wilt it into egg or pasta dishes. Chives are the last vegetable we’ve included in this week’s box. Aside from ramps they are the earliest onion-type vegetables we have in the spring. They add a bright, flavorful element to any dish ranging from salads, to vinaigrettes, sauces and spreads. Chive cream cheese is one of the easiest things to make with chives. I also know we have a few CSA kids in our membership who are known to just munch on raw chives…sometimes consuming the entire bunch by themselves!
I hope you find this information helpful as you cook through and explore the contents of this week’s box. For more recipe ideas and culinary suggestions, visit the “Cooking With This Week’s Box” article on our blog. I’ll include recipe suggestions and links for every item in the box. Of course, you can also just give us a call or send us an email if you come across a culinary question that you can’t find an answer for! Have fun and enjoy the season!