Melissa Spike-Meier faced her kohlrabi crisis three years ago.
Like thousands of Western New Yorkers, Spike-Meier thought subscribing to a local vegetable farm for the season sounded like a brilliant idea. But when the Sputnik-like kohlrabi showed up in her weekly bag of produce, along with strangers like lacinto kale and daikon radish, the challenge of community supported agriculture hit home.
"After a few weeks of unknown ingredients and busy work schedules, plus the amount of produce we were getting, we started to find rotting vegetables in the fridge," said Spike-Meier. "We were throwing away what we didn't eat from the week before to make room for the next week's goods."
But Spike-Meier, a content producer at Fisher-Price, found ways to cope. Now when her subscription to Thorpe's Organic starts, she is ready, with a collection of recipes for every vegetable under the sun and her hard-earned knowledge that being a CSA customer takes work.
Those pristine vegetables need to be dealt with -- washed, cooked, traded, frozen -- or they'll go to waste. If you can't spend more time and attention on your vegetables, the weekly CSA bag will also deliver a bumper crop of guilt.
Here are some of the best CSA tips from Spike-Meier and other veteran farm subscribers, who have come to love the weekly challenge their vegetables present.
Start collecting recipes now. What will you do when faced with unfamiliar vegetables? If you're like Andrea Kolhoff, Google is the first stop.
She never had seen kohlrabi before, but after some Internet searching she quickly learned that the broccoli relative was "exceptionally versatile," roasted, pureed or shredded for slaw.
Now she has developed a list of recipes that use the vegetables she expects to receive in her Promised Land box. The rhubarb can go right into her favorite rhubarb squares dessert. When Kolhoff gets yet another bunch of Swiss chard, kale or other greens, she has her trusty easy lasagne recipe ready.
Many CSAs provide recipes for the week's bounty on their websites, but new customers will still have to find the dishes that work for their palates, and those they feed.
Make time to handle your haul. Several CSA veterans stressed the need to make a plan for each week. Unpack your bag and decide each vegetable's fate: cook now, cook later, process for storage or give away.
So for instance, on one week, the collard greens are for dinner tonight, simmered with a ham hock. The turnips will go to Aunt Sue. The cucumbers can wait until later in the week, but this chard needs attention now.
"Wash and put away all of your fruits and vegetables the day you get them," Spike-Meier suggested. "Setting aside time to do this will help the produce last much longer." You're more likely to use them if they're already cleaned, she added.
Find a partner. Being a CSA member usually requires making trips to fetch the weekly bag. Finding a partner to split one share makes it easier to get to the pickup site at the best times, said Mary Lou Tarquini de la Plante, a Native Offerings customer for a decade.
"[My partner] can go sometimes when I can't make it to the pickup," she said. "Sometimes it's a pain to have to go every week."
Learn how to make the vegetables last. Canning and freezing are two popular ways to save your CSA surplus for later.
When Kolhoff found heaps of green beans in her bag, she decided to put up "dilly beans," pickling the fresh beans for winter enjoyment. "But I enjoy doing that stuff," she said. "Being in the kitchen is a hobby for me."
Freezing is easier -- if you have freezer space. Kolhoff blanches chard and other greens, then packs them into zip-top bags. They're easy to pull out of the freezer to replace spinach in her favorite lasagna or other recipes.
Make soup. Soups also freeze well, and vegetable soups make an excellent catch-all to use up odds and ends on refrigerator cleanout day.
"When fall descends and it's the kind of day that makes you want to come home from work to some hearty, warming soup and hot apple cider, that is exactly what I do," said Nicole Klem of Cheektowaga, a Porter Farms subscriber. "I can throw together a harvest minestrone almost exclusively using ingredients that were grown within 100 miles of Western New York -- winter squash, celery, turnips, carrots, chard, the last of the tomatoes and basil, onions and garlic."
Amy Zucarelli-Collins of Greece will take her turnips or butternut squash from Porter Farms and make a batch of soup to freeze for later, she reported. "Nothing's better on a cold February day than butternut squash bisque."
Porter Farms, the oldest Western New York CSA, hopes to reach 1,000 subscribers this season. Coordinator Emily Swarner said new customers learn about more than unfamiliar vegetables -- they learn the local growing season.
"Some of them may be looking for tomatoes right off the bat, and you're not going to get them until August," Swarner said. "A big part of what CSAs do," she said, "is education."
>Go Anywhere Rhubarb Squares
1 cup flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine flour and powdered sugar in large bowl; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Press into the bottom of a greased 11-by-7 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.
For filling, combine sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla in medium bowl. Stir in rhubarb; pour over warm crust.
Return to oven and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool pan on wire rack, and cut into squares. Serve warm if desired. Store in refrigerator.
(Shared by Andrea Kolhoff)
Find more reader-recommended recipes for your CSA bounty weekly at The News' food blog, blogs.buffalonews.com/hungryformore.
>Turnip Soup with Greens
1 bunch of turnips with greens, or 3 or 4 turnips and 1 bunch of turnip greens
2 small onions or leeks
2 or 3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Freshly ground black pepper
Remove greens from the turnips, if necessary. Wash and rinse the greens and cut them into thin strips. Set aside.
Peel turnips and chop them into small chunks. Peel and finely chop onions or clean and finely chop leeks. Thinly slice garlic.
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium high heat. Add onions or leeks, sprinkle with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add chopped turnips and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook until turnips are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in turnip greens and cook until greens are tender, about 2 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve hot, garnished with black pepper, if you like.
Makes 4 to 6 servings. Freezes well.