I don't know about you, but I am the sort of person who dreams about things like coming into a large inheritance of fresh carrots in late March. The mere thought of seeing a hairy, sweet little root plucked from the ground so early in the growing season makes me tingle with delight. Or leeks. I'd take those too. I can only hope one day I will be so lucky as to have the experience myself.
Because although it wasn't me that stumbled happily into this occasion, it is a true story. A few people did; people living in the Dartmouth area who subscribe to Forbidden Fruit Farm's CSA. Very smart people, I think.
I should probably back up. Carrots in late March and an abbreviation that sounds like some sort of top secret, under cover military mission is a lot to drop on you all at once. But CSAs are really very simple. The letters stand for Community Supported Agriculture, and the way they work is that a farmer (like Barbara Purdy at Forbidden Fruit Farm, for instance) offers to sell people shares of the season's harvest. The people pay up front—to help the farmer with the sometimes staggering cost of seeds, and labor, and soil inputs, and equipment that all come piled up at the start of the growing season when there's no income to balance them out—and then in exchange, once the crops start to come up, the members get a weekly pickup of whatever's ripe.
It's a very cool system, I think—not only for the farmer, who essentially gets a start-up loan each spring—but also for the families that participate. For one, they get exposed to a huge variety of new fruits and vegetables each week. (One woman who's a member of the Forbidden Fruit CSA, for instance, said she even got her husband to try celeriac this fall, an event she thought she'd never see.) And also, they get to know their farmer and the other families who participate very well, in a community sort of way. Purdy's CSA has work parties, where the members get together to do things like dig potatoes and make pesto for the freezer, with kids running around helter-skelter with the chickens and adults chatting away, everyone chopping basil while they swap recipes and advice.
It's also affordable. Per week, a full supply of fruits and veggies for a family of four at Forbidden Fruit Farm comes to only $35—an amount that one member observed you could quite easily spend on lettuce at a store like Whole Foods. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal for local, organic produce to me.
Most CSA's only run from about June to September, or maybe October around here. But Purdy's goes almost year round. Pick-ups start in April (this month!) with things like wintered over carrots and leeks and spinach and other hardy greens, and then go full on through the fall, right up through New Year's Day. She even arranges special pick-ups for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so that if you have a whole flock of relatives coming into town, you can stock up on veggies for them, too. Here's what was going on in her greenhouse in mid March:
For some people, the idea of getting a basket every week and having no idea what might be inside could be a bit nervewracking, but I think it sounds like fun. You never know what sorts of new friends you might make with a system like that—human and edible alike.
There are quite a few new CSAs around here—with all sorts of options offering everything from adding in herbs, which makes for a CSA-W, or Wellness CSA, to getting your pick-up basket delivered to your local farmers' market each week. You can put in your area code and find the one closest to you here, if you're interested in signing up.
As for those carrots—if you're wondering what those lucky CSA-ers did with the little delights—well, from what I heard, they cooked them up using a recipe from Cary Isaacs. He's the member with the biggest cranial recipe collection, I gather, and the recipe he offers below—for sesame carrot pasta salad—is very good. I can vouch for it, as you might have gathered from the photo way up above. We made it a few nights ago and ate the whole thing in a mere 24 hours with only two of us to pitch in. With more than two at the table, I highly doubt it would ever make it off the table and into the fridge.
SESAME PASTA SALAD
adapted from a recipe by Cary Isaacs of Forbidden Fruit CSA in Dartmouth
I misread this recipe the first time I tried it and turned Isaacs'original creation—a soup—into a pasta salad. I liked the results so much I decided to stick with it, but you could easily revert to the original by simply simmering the first four ingredients—the core of the dressing—with 2 or 3 cups of chicken broth, and then serving the veggies and noodles with the hot broth in a soup bowl.
I also tried a variation using more ginger and a few spoonfuls of peanut butter to make a creamier, zingier dressing, which I loved. If you try that, I recommend ommitting the mushrooms—they don't go well with the nutty taste.
1/4 cup minced ginger
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup chives, thinly sliced
3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup storage cabbage, thinly sliced
a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and thinly sliced
1/2 pound pasta, cooked (soba noodles, spaghetti, or any other thin pasta—homemade included!—will work)
sesame oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the first 5 ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir together to make a dressing. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, and pasta, and pour as much as you need of the dressing over top. (There may be some extra.) Coat with sesame oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.