Handling Food From the Ground

Or : What to do with what you just picked up at the CSA

At my CSA, we have something called the “Mix-n-Match” table: you have a bag and you can fill the bag with whatever you would like from the table. So the week there is a three-okra limit, I might not put any in my bag – it isn’t a family favorite unless it is pickled and I am not going to pickle three okras. So there I am, admiring the scallions (aka green onions or bunching onions), and this woman asks, “What are those?” Before you judge her, and shake your head in disbelief that someone might not know what a scallion is, she had just overheard a conversation about bunching leeks and what to do with them. Plus, she’s new to the CSA.

I said, “That’s a scallion.”

“Why is it so big?”

Because what we get from the CSA was just harvested and not trimmed so it will fare better in long transportation. I explained to her that when she got home, she should trim the roots and the tops and indicated on a scallion about where that should happen.

“Oh,” she said and paused. “I feel stupid.”

photo 1Well, she shouldn’t. And neither should anyone else. The food Americans purchase at the grocery store, even in the produce section, many times bears little resemblance to the food as it comes out of the field. Carrots are dirty, have long green tops and are not always uniform in shape. They are longer than one inch, and have a peel that most people scrape off with a peeler. Lettuce comes in many colors, not just pale iceberg greenish-white, and the outer leaves sometimes have residual dirt where they meet the stalk. Cucumbers have stems. Summer squash and zucchini can grow to be larger than a baseball bat.

Much of what I pick up from the CSA has dirt on it. It hasn’t been washed in peroxide and/or acetic acid, the ingredients in some commercial food production produce washes. It has been rinsed in potable well water and that is all. The rest is up to me.

Root vegetables get washed first, as they are generally heavier and tougher and can withstand being at the bottom of the drain board. I bought a scrub brush just for my veggies and I scrub the roots vigorously under running water. Pat them dry with a towel and leave to air dry. I use a washcloth on peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and other softies so as not to bruise them.

Leafy greens get a special treatment. The CSA brings them in from the field and then submerges them in water to get “the field heat” off of them. It prevents wilting to a certain extent. We found that after two days, the leafies would start to wilt again. At first, they became compost fodder, then they went to the chickens, but now, we resurrect them:

Fill the sink with warm water – not hot, but really warm. Put the wilted greens in the sink and let them soak. I know this is entirely counter-intuitive, but trust me. After about ten minutes, drain the sink and add cold water. The greens will have perked up. Here’s the science: heat relaxes things and cold constricts things. Leaves have pores through which they absorb or give off moisture. If you allow the pores to open (warm water), they can absorb moisture and rehydrate. After the leaves rehydrate, constrict the pores (cold water) to keep them crisp.

One thought to “Handling Food From the Ground”

  1. “Here’s the science:
    heat relaxes things
    cold constricts things.
    Leaves have pores
    through which they absorb
    or give off moisture. If you allow
    the pores to open (warm
    water), they can
    absorb moisture and rehydrate.
    After the leaves
    rehydrate, constrict the pores (cold
    water) to keep them crisp.”

    Found poem, m’dear :)

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