I have to be honest with you… learning to eat seasonally is an adjustment. It’s a lot different from going to the grocery any time of year and be able to pick up lettuce, strawberries, sweet potatoes, kale, turnips, broccoli, tomatoes and zucchini all at the same time because that’s what you need for specific recipes you’re planning.
Eating locally and seasonally is an experience… one where you learn what’s in season at certain times of the year and not others… of the incredible flavor of an actually-ripe strawberry… one picked at the peak of ripeness and not when it’s white then gassed till it turns red…. of learning how to pack an abundance of greens into absolutely everything, and then all of a sudden they’re gone and you’re left thinking, “wait, I was getting used to kale salad and now I miss it! Now what do I do with the onions, garlic, zephyr squash, okra and tomatoes?” It’s meal planning from what you have, and building your meals from what’s fresh, ripe and delicious. It’s an experience of learning what the heck those curly thin green things are in your box (garlic scapes).
Learning to eat seasonally takes time. We’ve learned it takes two to three years to really get the hang of becoming a CSA member. The first year is all about new experiences… learning what each vegetable is, what’s in season when, maybe even beginning to freeze some greens for winter, and the “oops, I didn’t get to the okra in time this week” moments. (Don’t worry, those moments still happen to me occasionally!)
The second year is about becoming accomplished with the seasonal recipes from the veggies you learned about in year one, and the third year is about learning preservation techniques to extend the life of your veggies.
I recently heard from a second year CSA member, Karen. She describes actually being a person who doesn’t like vegetables that much, but knows they are good for her and wants to incorporate more into her diet. She described seeing garlic scapes for the first time and not really knowing what to do with them… She says, “speaking of learning new things - garlic scapes! … when I saw garlic scapes coming back this year, it was like meeting an old friend. I love just adding them to whatever I'm cooking or a salad, and so I ordered extra!”
I know I’ve had that experience… for me it was fennel. It actually took me three years of not really know how to cook it. I would add it to pasta sauces or caramelized on top of pizza, and it was good, but I was just getting through it (or avoiding it altogether). Then I discovered fennel apple salad, and now whenever see fennel in my share, I get so excited. I can’t have fennel-apple salad anytime I want to … I have to wait until it’s ready.
Becoming an expert CSA member means learning new veggies and the ways you can cook them that get you excited. It means learning to freeze greens or make stock, and adapting your cooking what’s in your share and using what you need to use first. For example, I know that fennel bulb will keep for a couple weeks, so if I also have lettuce in my share, I know I need to make green salad in the beginning of the week, and fennel apple salad later in the week.
I think CSA members at any stage can relate to the experience of being so excited to open up the box! Karen says, “When I unpacked the lettuce (two different times), it was like a religious experience - hard to describe, ..but the structure of the leaves, the color, and so fresh... I was in awe. The scent and colors of the Swiss chard seemed to nourish me before I even ate it. So now I need to figure out what's the best way to use lacinato kale - chips, salad, steamed -- I was shocked at the texture and color of this new acquaintance!” (I told Karen to try this raw kale salad)
I love how Karen describes these veggies as acquaintances that become friends over time, as we get to know them. I hope for your CSA journey that you continue to grow in your knowledge of veggies, your expertise in eating seasonally, your courage in experimenting with new foods and storing foods, and ultimately more fun in the kitchen as a creative home cook.