How to Make the Most of a Plentiful Harvest
By Cheryl Angelina Koehler
Last April as I was editing our summer issue’s article about the expanding community-supported agriculture (CSA) model, I took a small leap and signed up for a weekly veggie box. The result has been exactly as expected: Every seven days I find myself desperately clutching Shooting Star CSA’s memo of crop notes and recipes as I claw my way out from under an avalanche of exceedingly fresh summer produce. However, it’s not only CSA produce—the mountain of food includes all the things I can’t pass up at the farmers market or produce stand, plus the gifts that appear from similarly oversupplied friends. Heaven knows that the last thing any of us wants is to see all this lovingly raised food go to waste, and since it falls within my purview as the editor of this magazine to determine how best to make use of a plethora of local produce, I have for you three ways to step up to the task.
1. Give it away!
Even during an abundant harvest season, there are plenty of people in our communities who either can’t afford or don’t have easy access to fresh local produce. The good news on that front is that our food banks have redesigned their warehouses so they can handle fresh produce. Many have relationships with CSA farms that make it easy for CSA members to pass along any unneeded portion of their shares to the needy, and backyard gardeners can donate to local charity programs as well—there may be people in your neighborhood who are active in collecting the bounty. Check with Anna Chan, the Lemon Lady. Since we first learned about her a couple years ago, Anna has assembled a multifaceted action plan on her blog. Make your way to thelemonlady.blogspot.com and you’ll find lots of advice on collecting and donating unwanted produce. If you’re curious about what happens to food that goes unsold at your farmers market, stop by the information table and ask: You’ll find out that almost none of it goes to waste, since everyone involved with the markets wants to see this good food go to where it’s needed.
2. Get into the kitchen with some inspiring recipes
It seems that every cookbook publishing house in the country has chosen this summer to release several new titles aimed squarely at using the kind of abundance currently staring me down in the kitchen. One of my favorites is Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers, by Sur La Table with Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel, 2010). It features portraits of 10 CSA farms located in nine different states, representing both coasts as well as the U.S. heartland. The wide geographical distribution is evidence that the CSA concept is flourishing all across the country, and the inclusion of sections on poultry, meat, and eggs shows how small organic farmers are once again reaping the age-old benefits of integrating animals into their farm ecology. Scroll down to the bottom of this article for a recipe from the book.
3. Preserve it!
Learning how can be a fun social event when you sign up for one of the many hands-on workshops now being offered all over town. Here are a few URLs with workshop listings: happygirlkitchen.com, bluechairfruit.com, iuhoakland.com. A word of warning, however:
You’ll find most of these workshops full and with long waiting lists, so if you’re old-school enough to want to learn from a printed book, gather your friends and get in the kitchen with the following new offerings.
Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ’em up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook—From Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling (Storey Publishing, 2010) starts out with a gutsy essay debunking all the hooey we’ve been fed about how preserving food is a waste of our time and we’re going to kill our loved ones by doing it. Then she goes on to tell us about the many things we can do to preserve the excess, along with the tastiest ways to enjoy it in the off seasons when the time comes to serve it up.
Slightly less comprehensive, but quite handsome and inspiring, is a book just published by Weldon Owen for Williams-Sonoma entitled The Art of Preserving: Sweet & savory recipes to enjoy seasonal produce year-round. It calls on some of our local talent in the preserving arena, Rebecca Courchesne of Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, who collaborated with Rick Field of Rick’s Picks pickle company to create a hardbound book of 134 classic recipes. They cover the expected—preserves and pickles—and then go on through compound butters and curds; salsas, relishes, and chutneys; to condiments and sauces, which include ketchups, mustards, barbecue sauces, dipping oils, syrups, flavored honeys, and vinegars. There’s also a page on infusing spirits. Each section has several recipes showing how to make use of preserved items in your cooking.
Here’s a recipe that’s going to help me meet what is likely to be a huge August harvest of wild blackberries. The headnote to the recipe suggests the vinegar will “breathe new life into salad dressings and sauces” and will make a nice gift.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s The Art of Preserving: Sweet & savory recipes to enjoy seasonal produce year-round.
½ cup fresh mint leaves (optional), thoroughly rinsed, patted
In the saucepan, warm the vinegar over low heat until hot but not yet simmering; do not let it boil. Remove from the heat. Place the blackberries and the mint, if using, in the bowl. Pour in the hot vinegar and stir to combine. Set aside to cool. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2–4 weeks; the longer the vinegar stands, the stronger the flavor will be. Gently stir the vinegar every few days to blend the flavors.
Strain the vinegar through a fine-mesh sieve and then through a coffee filter. Using a funnel, pour the filtered vinegar into hot, sterilized bottles. Cover tightly and store at room temperature for up to 2 months.
Warm Shelling Bean Salad with Grilled Shrimp
Adapted from Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers by Sur la Table with Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel, 2010)
Shelling beans should be in good supply this season as growers have stepped up production to meet rising demand. When you purchase shrimp for this recipe, look for Pacific Coast wild-caught pink shrimp, which are a Best Choice according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWATCH program (montereybayaquarium.org). If you can find wild-caught shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, purchasing them will be a way of helping support the fishermen impacted by the BP oil spill.
2 pounds fresh cranberry beans, cannellini beans, black-eyed peas, crowder peas, or other shelling beans
½ yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise, plus 1 large clove, finely minced
4 thyme sprigs
1½ quarts water
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ large red onion, halved again through the stem end, then very thinly sliced
¼ cup minced fresh Italian parsley
12 fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces
2 innermost celery ribs, thinly sliced
1½ cups halved cherry tomatoes, preferably red and gold types
Red wine vinegar
18 large shrimp (about ¾ pound total), peeled and deveined
Remove the beans from their pods; you should have 3–3½ cups. Put them in a saucepan with the yellow onion half, garlic halves, thyme sprigs, and water. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, then cover partially and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the beans are tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their maturity. Season with salt and let cool in the liquid. The beans will be even tastier if prepared to this point 1 day ahead and refrigerated in their cooking liquid.
Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to high (450º to 500º).
Remove the onion, garlic, and thyme sprigs from the beans. Reheat the beans gently, just until warm. Drain (reserving the cooking liquid for soup, if desired), and transfer to a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, red onion, minced garlic, parsley, basil, and celery. Toss well. Add the cherry tomatoes and toss again gently. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and a splash of wine vinegar.
Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt. Grill directly over the coals or gas flame, turning once, until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer them to a bowl, grate a little lemon zest over them, and toss gently.
Divide the bean salad evenly among salad plates. Top each portion with 3 shrimp. Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.
Cheryl Angelina Koehler is the editor of Edible East Bay and an inveterate forager. You can hear her talking live about her foraging adventures at the Eat Real Lit Fest on August 28. See page 12 for more information about the Lit Fest.