Sunday, April 15, 2012

'Preserving' and 'In Season': My CSA Food Basket Companions for Season Three

I am about to go into my third season as a member of Roots and Shoots Farm's CSA (community supported agriculture) food basket program.

Being is a CSA member is both exhilarating and challenging. The two challenges that loom large are: what surprises will be in my weekly basket and how will I use this produce respectfully.

I have chosen to recruit support this season to help me to be better informed about my foods and to also provide me with more recipe ideas beyond my current repertoire. I am also looking to extend my bounty beyond the end of the growing season.

I consider Pat Crocker's latest book, Preserving, a must have reference resource in my food library. Even if you don't want to go the third mile and do canning or freezing, Preserving is loaded with information for using your fresh produce. In Season, put out by Fine Cooking, is also a similar compendium. They are well matched companion pieces.

The books are both laid out by the harvest seasons. Between the two of them they give much information. Background on the fruits, vegetables and herbs. Descriptions of varieties and history. Details about care, storage, preparation, cooking, and matching. And if you are feeling ambitious, how you can preserve it - canning, pickling, jamming, drying, freezing...

Of the two books, I find Preserving to be more comprehensive. Size alone would be your first clue. It is over 500 pages of carefully crafted pictures and text.

Pat Crocker's book appeals to my sense of responsibility to food safety. In fact, she is emphatic. In a time where preserving has been romanticized, it is critical to understand the dos and don'ts of proper preserving. It is not difficult to perform these tasks but it is critical they are fully understood. Botulism and food spoilage is serious business.

Although Preserving is encyclopedic, it is well written and an easy read. How many times do we turn to mom and ask, "Help me. I want to make .... How do I do it."? When I am reading Preserving, I find its voice so similar to that of my late mother. (High praise, indeed!) The pictures help too. Pat Crocker supplied her own stunning photos for her book.

It was a pleasure to meet Pat Crocker at Nick and Nat's Uptown 21 in Waterloo where Nick and Nat put on a special dinner to showcase Pat's creations from the book. Chef Nick Benninger is already a dedicated preserver. So it was no surprise that the food was delicious and inspiring. The take away message resonated loud and clear - this is easier than you think.

I am feeling more ready than ever for this growing season. With Preserving and In Season by my side, new and exciting magic will be taking place in my kitchen this spring, summer and fall. Oh yes, and winter too.

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