This time of year, in our part of the country, CSAs are starting up. CSA is shorthand for Community Supported Agriculture. Folks agree to buy produce, fruit, etc., from a local farmer at a set price. Often the food is delivered once a week for a set number of weeks. If there is bounty of, say, cantaloupe, members of the CSA share it; if a crop is lost, members share that too.
One of my responsibilities is to run a small CSA. This time of year can be tough. We had a cool, wet spring, delaying much of our planting. So for our first week of produce we had loose leaf lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, fresh herbs, and chamomile – not exactly your average weekly produce purchase from the grocery store.
That said, there’s something good about the discipline of attending, in our kitchens, to the early, delicate, often overlooked fruits of the earth. You may not be a CSA member, or a home gardener, but we all know the benefits of eating in season (flavor, nutrition, sometimes price). So here are a few notes on how to make the most of this time of year:
1. Learn to Love the Leaf. My last post was a nod to leafy greens. It’s worth restating. Greens are unmatched in subtlety and nuance – not that they lack pizazz; you can get pretty crazy with some mizuna and arugula. I like to roll up huge spinach leaves, the size of my face, and eat them like a … spinach stick, which does not sound appetizing, but is. Is it ever.
2. The Garlic Plant Is Edible. We all know about garlic bulbs. Around here, they are not ready until mid-July. Some know about scapes – the long, stemmy shoot that sends the flower curling out of the center of the stalk. When these have completed a loop, cut them just above the top leaves, and chop them like garlic. Now, however, even those aren’t ready. Good news: the leaves are edible. They have a mild garlic flavor, and can be minced and used just like the cloves.
3. Focus on Perennial Herbs. Herbs that come back year after year, like sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary (if it survives your winter – mine never do), have put on new, tender growth. This is best time to pick those leaves (before the plant flowers) and use them liberally. When you’re tired of that, dry them.
4. Consider the Weed. I noted previously that lambsquarters, besides being a prolific weed, is a wonderfully tasty green – especially now; when the plants get big they taste bitter. The same is true of curly dock, which is also very nutritious, and purslane or Mexican parsley. Remember to always know exactly what you’re eating before you eat it.
5. Embrace Volunteers. Plant volunteers are veggies that may have gone to seed, and are now germinating, or bulbs (like onion) that you missed and are now regrowing. I have a row of onions that were too small by the time of the freeze last season, that are now regrowing. Two years ago I lugged a sack of turnip seed to my shed. It had a hole in it and left a thin trail of seeds on the ground. The following spring I had a single row of turnips bisecting one of my fields.
I hope these tips are helpful. Feel free to share any of your own.