No, We Have Strawberries – Drink Up the Pleasures of CSA (Weeks 7, 8)
I’ve made Tuesday’s Tamars-day in the Bungalow. As I’ve expounded, one of the best guides to the locavore life is Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. The key chapter in the book is number 3, called, “How to Stride Ahead.” In this chapter, Ms. Adler teaches her approach to vegetables. She tells us this.
Our desire to eat fresh vegetables has left us with an idea that vegetables are only good if they’re cooked just before being eaten. But many of the best vegetable dishes are created over time.
Thus, she coaches a Tamar’s day, an adventure in working one’s way through your vegetable purchases (or in my case, mostly what comes in our Tomato Mountain CSA*) in one busy day. I’ve spent the last two Tuesdays in Tamars-days, and you know what. I’m going to save Tamars-days for another post. In fact, by the time I get to that post, I expect I’ll have another Tamars-day in the books. Let’s talk instead, today, about that bit of variety that sneaked into the CSA box. I mean, the other day, Tamars-day, I really started crashing when it came to what would I do with even more kale. Do you want to hear about that now?
When I sell CSA membership–I mean selling the idea of CSA membership, not like my wife, who actually sells CSA memberships for Tomato Mountain Farm–I tout the benefit of the CSA newsletter. Pretty much all CSAs deliver a newsletter each week with their box. The newsletter typically covers recipes for the box’s exotica, being the best sources for data on kohlrabi and bok choy; they contain great storage tips; for instance Tomato Mountain subscribers have learned to avoid washing their lettuce too far in advance. Best, however, CSA newsletters provide insight and information into farm life. Insight that can be best summed up, I believe, into two words. It sucks.
To read CSA newsletters is to read the natural follow-ups to Grapes of Wrath. OK, life on the organic farm is hardly close, but it always seems too much. It’s too hot. Too cold. Too wet. Too dry. The weeds have over-run the crops. The insects have under-run the crops. Rabbits. Deer. Racoons and other varmits get there first. Blight and bolting. Rust and grubs. It is, you learn a near miracle each week a box arrives. If that box once again contains almost all green, of chards and kales and lettuces and Asian cabbages with interchangable names meant to inspire: it’s not just a green it’s “vitamin green,” then you should rejoice. And from that newsletter we learned that yes, we could rejoice in the season’s first strawberries.
The newsletter allowed for variance in the berries from weather, variety, difficulties in harvesting, and the fact that they thought of themselves mostly as vegetable farmers. In other words, be happy with what shows. Luckily, what showed were three awesomely flavored boxes of berries. True to their warning, one of the boxes (not the one pictured) contained berries ripe on only one side. With some of the strawberries not quite sweet enough for out of hand cooking, they did have a perfect place. The infusion jar.
I’ve been making infusions for a while. They are the ideal vehicle for using up soft fruits or forgotten fruits or in the case here, fruit 1/2 ripe. The problem, however, I’ve been making mostly crappy infusions. I imagined there was not much to an infusion beyond booze and fruit. Yet the results often tasted awful, like the worst homebrew possible. I learned that I often created “secondary fermentation”, booze from my booze and that was not a good thing. I was coached to use higher proof spirits instead of vodka or gin, like the Everclear I had not bought in about 30 years. Of course, it turns out there’s a Polish “rectified spirit”, Polmos Warszawa, that may or may not be better than Everclear but seems classier at least. I switched to this nearly pure alcohol. It did not really work. I made pretty looking bottles that still tasted awful. I realized this year, I think, that I infuse way too long. This batch shared fruit and spirit for just 2 days. I strained. Added about 2 tablespoons of simple syrup (another improvement, in the past I added straight honey or sugar) and water that to my eye, looked to be about 80 proof or 40 percent alcohol and 60 percent water, i.e., just over half water. Rectified spirit; simple syrup; just two days; it worked. You really get the essence of strawberry in the booze, yet it is not cloying or medicinal. A little snort is the perfect way to toast CSA membership and all the hard work really required to bring me organic fruits and vegetables–or in my case also to another Turkish breakfast, but that too if for another post. It may be sucky to run a farm, but thank god someone does it.