Making the Most of the Week's Bounty
Farmers everywhere are thrilled and grateful for the current boom of new customers looking for locally grown, naturally raised foods. The truth of the matter is that it is a big change from what you might be used to from your grocery store. The produce you see in the grocery store has been bred to take a beating during long transit times but lacks depth of flavor. Small farms look for different qualities like superior taste, outstanding texture, and even traits like quirky shape and color that appeal at the farmer's market. We get to do this because we don't have to worry about our food traveling many food miles. The trade-off is, of course, that this produce won't always last the way your grocery store produce does. That is why we have put together this guide to help you make the most of your market haul or CSA box! If you have any questions about anything, send us a message so we can add it to the list!
All vegetables must be washed and peeled before use, even when grown organically and/or naturally. Washing not only removes pesticide residue from conventional produce but also removes any soil-borne bacteria. A chef friend of mine uses a solution of 1 teaspoon castile soap (i.e. Dr. Bronner's unscented) to 1 gallon of water, plunges and scrubs all fruits and vegetables in the solution, and rinses and dries thoroughly before storing. There are also commercial products available. Anything you don't plan to use within 3-5 days should be frozen (or pickled, when applicable) right away. Use the most perishable, tender produce earlier in the week and save the things that last a long time for later in the week.
Root Veggies. Even though it isn't as common to eat the tops of your root vegetables nowadays, unless specifically indicated by your farmer you can assume they are edible. Begin by removing the greens. Softer greens like carrot tops can be made into pesto and beet tops can be used any way you'd use Swiss chard or spinach, but heartier ones like turnip and radish tops should be blanched (see the cooking greens section for more tips). If you plan to cook the roots in the next few days, you can cut or grate them and store in a lidded container lined with a layer of paper towel. Carrots can be stored in water for a few days to prevent drying out. Anything you don't plan to use can be grated, stored in an airtight container, and placed in the freezer for soups and fritters.
Raw Tender Greens. Things like lettuce, kale, and baby greens should be plunged into cold water to remove any residual soil and to refresh the leaves. Gently lift the greens into a salad spinner to remove as much excess water as possible. Store in a lidded container lined with a layer of paper towel.
Cooking Greens. Thicker, big-leafed greens like chard, collards, and kale should have their woody stems removed and then can be blanched by boiling for 30-60 seconds followed by an immediate plunge into an ice bath.
Tomatoes. Store them on the counter, never the refrigerator. If you want to use them fresh, simply wash in a 1:8 vinegar to water bath, rinse, and dry before use. If you freeze them, you can actually freeze them whole in an airtight bag or container. When they thaw the skin slips right off for use in sauces or soups.
Other Vegetables. Blanching before freezing may take away a small amount of the nutritional value, but it also eliminates the enzymes that would cause vegetables to become mushy when thawed. To do this, follow the same blanching instructions as the cooking greens but instead partially freeze them on an uncovered parchment-lined baking sheet before transferring to an airtight container. In general, you can just cook frozen veggies without thawing unless you've pureed them. This technique works for snap peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
Herbs. Prop the herbs in a mason jar with water, just like you'd do for cut flowers. Cover the whole thing with a plastic bag and wrap a rubberband around the jar. If you won't use them within a few days, freeze chopped herbs into ice cube trays topped with olive oil or make pesto and freeze in an airtight container. Tea herbs can be tied in a bundle and hung upside down in a cool, low-moisture, dark place to dry.
Grains & Pulses. Store grains, lentils, and dry beans in a cool, dry place in airtight containers. Ground grains can spoil quickly and should be stored in your refrigerator or freezer.
Berries. Wash in a 1:8 vinegar to water bath, then drain and rinse. Gently dry them with a paper towel, then store in an airtight lidded container that has been lined with a fresh paper towel. Anything you won't use in 3-5 days should be partially frozen on a lined baking sheet before transferring to an airtight container.
Other Fruit. Store stone fruit on the counter at room temperature and apples and pears in the refrigerator. Wash in a 1:8 vinegar to water bath and slice right before use. If you want to freeze them, do so on a lined baking sheet as above, or consider preparing pie filling (or whole pies) to enjoy in the winter when you're missing the taste of summer!