Cooking with CSA: Eating local expands the culinary horizon | TIDAL LIFE

It’s spring, only moments remain for us procrastinators to sign up for a CSA.

The acronym in this case stands not for Confederate States of America, nor a Czech airline, but Community Supported Agriculture.

It’s a simple idea: invest in a portion of a farmer’s crop and receive your dividend in weekly bushel baskets. It’s also a business model with a long history: Commodities trading started in much the same fashion back in nobody knows exactly when.

My friend Molly Petersons was the first local grower to give the idea a try.

In 2001, she and her husband John decided to expand their farm garden operation. They’d been bringing produce to the weekly farmer’s market for years, and had recently begun supplying Molly’s Island Garden greens to local groceries and restaurants. The CSA idea caught on right away and they’ve never had trouble selling shares to grow their operation as big as the two of them can manage.

Buying food this way was a new cultural experience that changed some of my personal habits. It had been years since I’d done any vegetable gardening. Entirely supermarket-centered, I’d lost touch with the seasonal rotation of growing here in the Northwest.

Heading to the farm after work that first Tuesday of the CSA season, I had little clue what I’d be taking home. I did think salad makings were likely.

The afternoon was lushly beautiful, all bouffant clouds and salt-scented breeze. Walking around the farm re-stoked my appetite for the country life I moved here to live. The row of bushel baskets bursting with fragrant spring greens appealed to the earthy me, who’d been pushed aside by the office- working e-mail addict.

I drove home salivating, breathing green-onion perfume. Setting the basket on the counter, I experienced a slight confusion — ahh, it looked so quaint, eeewww, how Martha Stewart — and a small snit about the way real things get co-opted by various divas and turned into expensive commodities.

Finally, I delved into the contents of the basket and considered dinner.

Sure enough, salad. A head of lettuce, a bunch of spinach, broccoli raab, arugula, plus a bag of mixed greens.

As I started putting it all away I realized I’d been brain dead on my last trip to the grocery store. Even though I’d known my first basket was due, I’d bought a head of lettuce. Yup. Lots of salad.

The next week our diet opened up a bit with snow peas, which we immediately ate raw remembering that when we used to grow them ourselves they never made it to the kitchen. Week three, I found bok choi and garlic snuggled in with the three heads of lettuce and bag of greens. Woo hoo! Things to which I could apply heat!

I stir-fried bok choi, garlic and the last of last week’s green onions.

The masses of lettuce eventually gave way to broccoli and a few tiny tomatoes. Now we were talking. This CSA thing was looking good.

Then fennel made its exuberant appearance in week five, and my heart sank. I’ve never liked anything with a licorice flavor — I’m a Red Vines girl. But, determined to stick with the adventure, I resolved to try the stuff once, then give the rest to a friend at work.

As the large bulb and its lacy 3-foot fronds took up half the basket, I moped about wasting precious grocery funds.

Fennel was the revelation of my culinary year. It’s terrific sliced raw in salads, and I found a recipe in “Joy of Cooking” for fennel gratin. Now I buy fennel in the off- season, blowing the whole eat-local philosophy. The CSA made me do it.

Other discoveries: garlic scapes (green curls with tiny garlic heads that must have inspired Dr. Seuss) taste like a crisp cross between a green onion and garlic. Patty pan squash, fava beans and tomatillos. Celeriac, another debut I wasn’t thrilled about, induced me to make rich celeriac remoulade. Tender carrots in yellow, red and purple became a favorite appetizer.

Then, midway through the season, salad withdrawal hit. The hot weather came along and the greens all bolted. The squash, beans and carrots were wonderful, but I really missed leaves.

The last day of the subscription, Molly and John decked the farm out for a party and loaded us down with the usual bulging basket plus winter squash and pumpkins. I did the Martha Stewart thing again, arranging a dining table vignette that kept reminding me of the farm all the way to Thanksgiving.

Check out these lists for more info. Local Harvest CSA listing: click here;

for WSU Island County Extension CSA list: click here; for Whidbey Island Grown branding for local products: click here.

There’s even a CSA training center at Greenbank Farm: click here.

For more info go to my Tidal Life Blog.

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