I've prepped and readied for my CSA this season, and now the real work begins: finding ways to eat everything every week before it goes bad! If it's your first time participating in a CSA, you'll soon learn it's not uncommon to end up with more than double what you'd have ever bought yourself at the grocery store. Sure, you buy cucumbers, but do you buy eight at a time? Welcome to CSA life.
Sound scary? It can be, but it's really just a lot of fun. Here are five things I try to do after every pickup to make sure those fruits and vegetables don't swallow me up (instead of the other way around).
1. Keep track of what came in the box.
After years of skimming and then misplacing the paper produce list included in most CSA boxes, now I write everything I got that week on my KLUDD noticeboard, which hangs right next to my fridge. This makes it easy to remember what I'm storing in the fridge. Once I've used up all of an ingredient, I check it off. Anything that isn't checked at the end of the week? Time to get creative and find a way to eat it or preserve it ASAP!
If you don't have a writeboard in your kitchen, jot down everything you got on a piece of paper and put that on your fridge, or at your kitchen desk, or wherever you're most likely to see it!
You may be wondering: Why don't I just look in my fridge to remember what I picked up that week? Well, I've learned that I cannot rely on my own powers of sight, especially when dealing with the small amounts of a single ingredient that sometimes show up in CSA boxes — a single jalapeño pepper, for example, or a tiny bunch of basil. There have been too many times I've come across that moldy jalapeño weeks later and thought, "Who put a jalapeño in the fridge?"
2. Immediately prep or properly store everything.
This step is crucial if I want to stay on top of my CSA, but as a recovering refrigerator bag lady, my tendency is to skimp on this step. However, I know what a difference it makes, so on a high-achieving day I will wash and portion the salad greens, chop up snacking vegetables and fruit, and ready a big bowl of veggies for roasting.
At the very least I try to make sure the vegetable is stored properly, keeping in mind the best ways to maintain its nutrition, as Anjali noted in her post about Jo Robinson's book Eating on the Wild Side. (I actually bought a copy of the book just to keep in the kitchen so I can refer to it when storing or cooking vegetables!)
3. Do a little mild meal planning.
"Mild" meal planning? Yes, that's what I call the initial brainstorm I try to do after I pick up my CSA box. I've never been good at planning meals ahead, but a CSA box forces me to have some semblance of a plan for getting through that week's haul. After I've unloaded, prepped, and properly stored everything, I jot down some initial usage thoughts on my KLUDD board. A typical list might look something like this:
A pint of blueberries - eat raw and immediately. Duh.
Arugula - salad for lunch
Mustard greens - with scrambled eggs for breakfast
Hakurei turnips - eat raw, sauté with butter
Lettuce - chicken lettuce wraps?
Purple kohlrabi - ?
Anything with a question mark means I need to do a little more research, which usually involves coming to The Kitchn or combing through cookbooks or my Evernote recipe archive. A quick search on The Kitchn, for example, brought up this for kohlrabi, and the fritters immediately jumped out at me. Done!
4. See if there's something to preserve.
With every CSA pickup, I try to see if there's something in there I'd love to enjoy a few months down the line when the seasonal supply has diminished or dried up. I might not do this every week (I only have one small freezer, and for the most part I just try enjoy the bounty in that moment), but sometimes it's necessary to preserve a few things just so they don't go to waste — all those delicious, ripe tomatoes and peaches, for example, or that fragrant basil bunch.
If there's no reasonable way we'll be able to eat our way through it all that week, I move on to Plan B: Can I freeze it? Can I make it into something else (like tomato sauce or pesto) and then freeze it? Can I pickle it? Can I preserve it in oil or bourbon? Can I steep it? I admit I have not yet gotten into canning, but this may be the summer I do it!
There's always one thing you can do to never let your CSA produce go to waste: Give it away to someone who'll use it! I'm sure you have family, friends, or neighbors who would love getting a free this or that some weeks, so if you're overrun with summer squash, don't let it languish in the fridge. Find a friend to take it off your hands!
What are your tips for staying on top of your CSA every week?