Preserving Value-Added Products for Winter Meals and CSAs
When the main Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) season comes to an end in October, we don’t close up the farm for the season here at Good Heart Farmstead. Instead, we keep on going all the way through December with an early Winter CSA. With the season-extending powers of hoop houses and low-tunnels, many farmers in Vermont and New England offer a Winter CSA these days, stocking hardy fresh greens alongside roots and storage veggies. But what often sets Winter CSAs apart from the summer season is the addition of value-added products—the spoils of the summer transformed and preserved for the cold months ahead. Inspired by Green Mountain Girls Farm in Northfield, VT, which offers a whole “pantry” of value-added products, we processed and preserved food for our first Winter CSA in 2013. That year, we only had 20 members, and the processing was at a comfortable scale, as if we were preserving for a large family to get through the winter. This year we are at it again, but this time with 40 members. In doubling the number of shares we realized we needed a dedicated processing day each week to get it all done, and ideally a crew of three, two for processing, and one for cleaning up as we went. Considerations When Adding Value While putting value-added products into a Winter CSA is a great way to, well, add value to the share each week, there are some important considerations, as well: the cost of raw products, the cost of containers, and time. The majority of our raw product comes right out of our fields, but for things like pesto there’s also salt, oil, lemon juice, and the like. We’ve found it’s most cost-effective to buy in bulk, which also ensures that we have plenty of each ingredient when we begin. The same goes for containers—at 20 members, we bought ball jars at the retail price, and it didn’t break the bank; with 40 members, we realized we were about to spend $400 on jars alone. We solved this by searching out a wholesale distributor of food-grade containers, and bought these in bulk as well. As for time, with so much to do on a farm in late summer and early fall, it’s important to put processing into the schedule. If you don’t, you risk losing crops to frost, or having to do three days’ worth of processing in one day (I speak from experience, and have to admit that staying up all night is exhausting!) With these considerations in mind, putting value-added products into your Winter CSA is well worth it. You can make use of the “ugly” (but still delicious!) vegetables that would otherwise get passed over, and members positively light up at the sight of vibrant green pesto when it starts snowing. Though some folks make their own sauerkraut, we find our members are delighted to have it handed to them ready-to-eat. This year we expanded our Winter CSA to include pesto, sauerkraut, magic soup starter and pumpkin puree. PESTO We make all sorts of pesto: basil, parsley, cilantro, arugula, kale—almost any green can be added. Because of possible allergens, we don’t put cheese or nuts in our pesto. Our main batch this year is a parsley-cilantro pesto with kale, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. The result is a complex flavor great for pizza, pasta and soups. We fill 8-ounce containers and put them in the freezer, where they can be stored all winter. SAUERKRAUT We keep our kraut simple: just cabbage and salt (this year we used Capture F1 Cabbage). We follow the ratio from Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, of 5 lbs cabbage to 3 Tbs salt, and ferment it in a 15-gallon crock, then transfer it into clean glass pint jars for our members. MAGIC SOUP STARTER When my husband Edge farmed in Alaska, this was the “magic stuff” that started many meals throughout the winter months. When you don’t have veggie stock on hand, this magic little preserve will make up for it fast. The soup starter is a salt preserve and can be made with any combination of vegetables. Simply grate or finely chop 5 lbs of vegetables and combine it with 1 lb of salt. The vegetables I’ve used include carrots, beets, turnips, onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, kale, collards and herbs such as sage, thyme, parsley, and oregano. Thoroughly mix the salt and vegetables, and store in a glass container. The abundant salt absorbs the flavor of the veggies and preserves them, so the soup starter does not need to be refrigerated. To use, combine one heaping tablespoon of soup starter per quart of water. PUMPKIN PUREE Everyone loves pumpkin pie, but not everyone wants to cook the pumpkin and make the puree. Our Long Pie pumpkins grew very large this year, with our average Long Pie making 2 ¼ lbs of puree (the typical pie recipe calls for 15 oz). We find that folks are slightly baffled at what to do with a large pie pumpkin, but are very excited to get a 16 oz container of the puree and be able to bake with it immediately. To make puree, quarter your pumpkin, place it on a baking sheet, and roast at 400° for about 45 minutes. Let cool enough to handle, then scoop out the flesh, mash in a bowl or process in a food processor, and transfer to a container. Refrigerate for a week, or freeze for up to three months. This is also a great way to save winter squash. Whether you run a Winter CSA, are a member of one, or simply want to make your harvests last beyond the growing season, making value-added products is a great way to stretch your vegetables into the cold months. As we creep closer to winter, there’s still time to reinvent cabbage into sauerkraut and transform the carrots, beets, onions and garlic that won’t store well into soup starter. Have fun, and may your taste buds be ever thankful for your ingenuity!
How long have you been preparing and using this mixture yourselves, i.e. in your own family?
How long have you personally found that this stays suitable for use when kept at room temperature?
Are there veggies that you have found that would NOT be suitable for preserving this way?