Storing and Preparing your CSA Produce

by Sara Jones, Tucson CSA

Sorting Tip

When you get your produce home, spend some time sorting it. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash and citrus store well in a cool, dry place that is out of direct light. A counter top out of direct light should work just fine. Greens should be stored in the crisper of your refrigerator. I like to separate roots from their greens right away to preserve the freshness of both. I find it convenient to store all of my roots together, separate from the greens.

If I don’t sort things right away and just toss it in a drawer all together, it makes it harder when I try to decide what to make later – it all looks like a jumbled mass of various greens and I forget what treasures lie hidden beneath my sight. Sorting my vegetables into categories helps me visually. I can take a quick inventory of what I have and then work from there.

Along this same line, always sort out any old produce, especially greens, before you add your new weeks worth of vegetables. Root vegetables and cabbage can last quite a while in the fridge, but make sure you have a system to cycle out older vegetables first. If you need to, get in the habit of making a Sunday or Monday night soup to use up any leftover vegetables and clear up space in the vegetable drawers of your fridge. If you notice that you are just not getting around to eating all of your greens or your roots, take them apart at the CSA, leaving the part you don’t want in the surplus basket. Some members will be thrilled to get extra greens.

Home-made Frozen Food Tip

Sound like a bit of an oxymoron?! Well, having something on hand that was pre-made and then frozen can be a savior when you have no time or energy at the end of the day. Even though I love to cook, I am not always in the mood to prepare a meal. When I have extra time or abundant leftovers, I like to make individual sized “hot pockets” for future use. Call them what you will; empanadas, samosas, dumplings, calzones, they are good with an endless variation of fillings. Any stew-like dish makes an excellent filling for a variety of wrappers. You can use a homemade pastry, yeasted dough, fillo-dough, pre-made pizza dough, or wonton wrappers. Cut the dough into the desirable size squares, add a scoop of filling to one half, then pull the other half over and seal. Put them on a cookie sheet and freeze for a couple hours until they harden, then put them in plastic bags to store. Straight from the freezer and into the oven, they usually take about 20 minutes at 350ºF for the crust to brown nicely and the filling to heat through.

(Making your own “frozen dinners” instead of buying packaged ones will save you a ton of money, be much more healthy with less sodium and preservatives, and eliminate packaging from entering the waste stream).

Random Tips for Expanding Your Recipe Repertoire

The bulk bins at natural food stores enable you to experiment with different spices/grains/etc without being committed to buying a large quantity. You can also try out new tastes!

  • Many people who join the CSA start cooking their meals from scratch. If you are not used to preparing a meal entirely from raw ingredients, you may find that you need to use salt and oil more liberally than you do when cooking with prepackaged ingredients. Keep in mind that salt and oil can be the essential “vehicles” that carry flavor to your taste buds in certain dishes.
  • If you have the time and inclination; read/browse cookbooks to familiarize yourself with a wide range of cooking styles. Or if reading recipes is boring or too intangible for you, find cookbooks and cooking magazines with pictures to inspire you.
  • Cook with a friend or group of friends. This is a great way to show off your specialties as well as get new ideas from watching your friends. Most of the recipes I have created have come from some lingering image I had in the back of my mind. They always start with “I saw a great recipe for this a while ago and I think it went sort of like this…”
  • Try to duplicate your favorite restaurant dishes. It is good practice for analyzing taste and understanding how a dish goes together.
  • “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Did I get that quote from Plato right? It certainly has been true for me. Times when I have been too short on time and/or money to do any sort of shopping, I have come up with some of my best recipes. Working with random or limited ingredients can spark simple and delicious ideas that you may not have thought of otherwise. For just one week, try not to do too much shopping and don’t supplement your CSA vegetables with any others. Out of desperation you might come up with something great!
  • I am not trying to discourage anyone from following recipes. If you see an interesting recipe, then by all means try it! Just keep an open mind and curiosity about other ways in which it could be interpreted. If you make a mistake with a recipe, it might not be too bad. Be creative with ways to deal with a dish that doesn’t quite work out as you had expected.

Sara Jones has been with the Tucson CSA since 2005.  Sara is the ultimate creative cook.  She periodically teaches a seasonal cooking class at the Tucson CSA.