Our Winter CSA from Main Street Farms ended in February, but we are still reaping the benefits. Vegetables like carrots and beets keep for a long time, and we loaded up on onions and potatoes at our final Saturday pick-up at the Central New York Regional Market.
All that's left to do until spring, then, is cook! Here's a look at some of the things we have made and enjoyed with our winter bounty. (We never did try the kohlrabi, but there's always next year. We will DEFINITELY sign up for the winter CSA again.)
Note: Now is the time to sign up for Main Street Farms' regular-season CSA. Pick-up is available all over Central New York -- in Syracuse, Liverpool, Onondaga Hill, Fairmount. Elbridge, DeWitt, Fayetteville, Homer, Cortland and Binghamton. Those who prefer a market-style CSA (with eight selections, like the one we enjoyed this winter) can pick-up at several locations rather than receive a box share. Vacation stops are available, and new payment options include weekly billing for those who do not wish to pay for the whole season upfront. CLICK HEREfor more information.
Carrot and Fennel Soup
Main Street Farms salad greens with roasted beets and walnuts
Long before there was the express lane and self-checkout at the grocery store, there was the self-service farm stand.
You've no doubt stopped at a place like this: You pull off the road, seduced by a sign with an arrow that says ASPARAGUS -- or sweet corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, eggs, honey... or all of the above. You look around for someone, then walk to the table or into a small shed or makeshift store, and find a notepad, pen, adding machine and cash box.
This is what is known as The Honor System, and it's a time-honored tradition: The farmer trusts us, the customers, to do the math, make change and deposit the money in the box, in exchange for the farm-fresh goods.
In this fast-paced, digital age, when people commonly pay for purchases by a swipe of their credit or debit card or by using their smartphone, The Honor System is a quaint reminder of days gone by.
In addition to being a charming slice of Americana, The Honor System allows farmers to work in the field or in the kitchen rather than mind the store, which is usually open all day, every day.
Most of the time, The Honor System is a system that works well for all parties. But, as with anything else, there can be bad apples that threaten to topple the cart.
A farmer in Madison County told me she has had an occasional problem with marauding youth squeezing tomatoes and doing minor damage to her merchandise and displays.
She is quick to add that she has never had a problem with money -- or, more specifically, with money being stolen. In fact, she says, it often happens that people over-pay -- and leave a note with instructions to keep the extra or to consider it a pre-payment for their next visit.
Some farmers, as you can see, have installed cameras so The Honor System isn't dishonored.
Another farm whose stand I frequent installed a camera system for a short time last year after both produce and money in the cash box was stolen more than once.
"To our most valued customers,'' a sign read. "Due to a few people who don't understand what we're trying to do here... We're sorry to have to record you... Thank you for your honesty.''
The cameras have not been in use this year. The Honor System tradition carries on, even when trust has been breached.
Said a friend who visits that stand regularly: "Folks who are farm stand thieves should be sentenced to community service and work on a farm.''
Many people come to Seneca Falls to visit the National Women's Hall of Fame, the Women's Rights National Historic Park and the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge. Many more pass through on their way to the wineries that make up the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail and the Seneca Lake Wine Trail -- and to their camps, cottages and homes in the Finger Lakes.
Sauders is a destination for food adventurists, "a unique country store'' that has grown from 10,000 square feet to 40,000-plus square feet -- the size of an Aldi or small Tops store. It's not a restaurant, but it ranks No. 1 on a Trip Advisor list of top restaurants in the Seneca Falls area, perhaps for its over-stuffed subs and deli sandwiches.
We've been hearing and reading about Sauders' expansion for a year now and stopped to check it out on our way to Seneca Lake. There's more parking, a covered drop-off and entry area and wide spacious aisles. If you're using a shopping cart, you'll no longer clog the aisles and bump into your fellow shoppers.
You might find yourself thinking the new Sauders reminds you of Wegmans. The store is big and more glossy, for sure, but still quaint and charming.
Sauders, open since 1978, was founded by Mennonites who moved here from Lancaster County, Pa. John Sauder, one of the owners, told the Finger Lakes Times last year the family has been wanting to expand the store for about five years and decided the time was right.
Basically, you'll find all the things you loved about the original Sauders -- on a larger scale.
You're greeted by a display of seasonal, local produce when you walk in the door. Next stop is a greatly expanded produce department.
There's an in-store bakery and an eat-in cafe called the Country Cookin' Cafe. The cafe also offers ice cream.
Grandma Sauders Candy Shack department has dozens of choices of bulk and packaged chocolate and candies, including every kind of "gummy" treat imaginable.
In the market for grains, pasta, rice, cereals and spices? You've come to the right place.
There's an expanded meat/deli department and cheeses galore, including local favorites like Muranda Cheese Co. and Yancey's Fancy cheeses. We spotted cheese curds and yogurts from Stoltzfus Family Farm, in Vernon Center.
Like to bake? There's an entire aisle of flour, sugars, sanding sugars, cookie and cake decorations in a kaleidoscope of colors, as well as candy-making supplies.
Are you "putting up summer"? There's canning and preserving gear and supplies galore.
No Mennonite store would be complete without jams, jellies, pickles, mustards, sauces, condiments and more -- Sauders has them all, including specialty items like pickled eggs.
Maple syrup, honey, nuts, dried fruit, trail mixes… the odds are good you'll go home with a thing or two NOT on your shopping list.
The "Book Nook" has Mennonite, Amish and community cookbooks.
The check-out area runs smoothly and is staffed by friendly young Mennonite women in their traditional white caps and calico print dresses. The store accepts debit and credit cards.
If you're in the Seneca Falls area and need some food/grocery items -- or even if you don't -- Sauders is worth a detour.
Sauders is at 2146 River Road, Seneca Falls. The store is open Monday to Saturday, beginning at 8 a.m. Information: 315-568-2673
Note: East of Syracuse and also worth checking out is the Troyers Country Store, 5518 Nelson Road, Cazenovia. The store offers meats, cheeses, baking supplies, bulk foods, nuts and a popular DIY nut butter grinding machine. The store is open Monday to Saturday. Information: 315-655-0346
Cut cauliflower into florets. Toss with a tablespoon or two of oil, plus a little salt and pepper, and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at 375 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cauliflower starts to turn golden. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Toast the cumin seed and crust it with the coriander using a mortar and pestle. Swirl in a half teaspoon each salt and black pepper.
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onion and red pepper and cook for about five minutes. Add garlic and red pepper, stir to combine, and cook a couple minutes more. Add the spice-seasoning mixture, broth, roasted cauliflower and diced potatoes to the pot. Bring to a boil, stir and reduce heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for about 15 to 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Turn off heat and mash vegetables slightly with a heavy spoon or potato masher. Using a slotted spoon, remove/reserve about two cups vegetables from the soup pot. Puree the soup using an immersion blender. Return the vegetables to the soup pot. Turn heat to low-medium and slowly add milk to pot until soup reaches the consistency (and color) you want. Heat slowly; do not boil. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper as needed. Ladle soup into heated bowls. Garnish with a sprinkle of Parmesan OR swirl in a little sour cream, if desired. Makes 12 or more servings, depending on size.
Garden update, East Side of Syracuse, June 25, 2014:
No sooner had the pole beans sprouted and started to take off, something dug them up. Bam! Gone.
Fortunately, the six San Marzano tomato plants in that small plot are untouched and coming along nicely. I see red sauce in our future -- supplemented with tomatoes from one of our local markets. We do not have enough space for a sauce garden.
Two kinds of cherry tomatoes (super-sweet reds and pear-shaped golden tomatoes) are also coming along well in the elevated garden box Robert built last year. The garden box is the perfect height for deer to enjoy a smorgasbord -- but they don't, knock wood. At least not so far, fingers crossed.
We've been enjoying romaine, arugula and leaf lettuce salads from the garden box, too -- to the point where I almost overdosed on salad last week, if that is possible. I love a salad with greens, arugula, local strawberries, toasted walnuts, balsamic vinaigrette and blue cheese this time of year.
The basil in its own planter box is deep green and gorgeous. As always, we'll use it to make pesto. And when local tomatoes are in season, we will feast on Caprese salad. But not before then.
When gardening space is scarce, you need to plant where you can to take best advantage of the sun. These planters hold green bell pepper plants. If everything grew as well as that ground cover, we'd be all set.
As the lettuces fade in the garden box, we might add some more herbs, or some Swiss chard, which will grow well into the fall. Got any suggestions?
How is your garden growing, Central New York? Let us know in the Comments section, below. Happy gardening - and harvesting!
Kale is everywhere these days, having its moment on menus and in the culinary limelight.
At our house recently, broccoli had a moment, when both of us came home with big green bunches of it.
We could have blanched it and stuffed it in the freezer for later use. Instead, we enjoyed it as a side dish and came up with a couple recipes to spotlight it.
There are worse things to OD on, right? Broccoli is a good source of protein, vitamin E, vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and iron and an excellent source of fiber. It's versatile, and works well in soups and salads, on pizza, in omelets and in other egg dishes.
Got a a lot of broccoli in your veggie drawer? Here's a couple recipes to add to your repertoire.
Creamless Broccoli Soup
1.25 to 1.5 pounds broccoli florets (and stalks, sliced)
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or a combination
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1 plump garlic clove, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
Black pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne
Salt if needed
3/4 cup rice
1/2 to 1 cup milk
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat butter or oil in soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook about 6 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and saute - do not brown. Add broth and water to pot and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and bring everything to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Add rice and cook until tender, about 10 minutes more. Broccoli should be very tender, as well.
Puree soup in pot using an immersion blender (or transfer to a food processor and puree in batches, then return to soup pot). Add as much milk as needed to thin the soup to a consistency you like; you can also add more broth. Add a couple tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, if you like. Taste soup and adjust seasonings as needed. Makes about 6 servings.
Smoked Ham and Broccoli Quiche
Pastry for 9-inch quiche
1 cup Jarlsberg, Gruyere or cheddar cheese, or a combination
1 cup smoked ham, cooked and cubed (see note)
1 generous cup cooked broccoli, chopped
3/4 cup half and half
Black pepper, salt
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll crust out and place in pie plate. Trim as needed. Crimp edges and prick crust all over with fork. Bake for 7 minutes, or until light golden. Remove crust from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Break eggs into a bowl. Whisk together eggs and half and half. Stir in cheese, ham and broccoli. Add pepper and salt to taste. Stir again.
Bake quiche for 55 to 60 minutes, or until set. Let rest briefly. Serve with a green salad. Makes 6 servings.
Note: I used smoked ham from W.W. Longhorn Ranch, Bernhards Bay, in this recipe. It is excellent. Find it (and them) at the Central New York Regional Market.
is National Zucchini Day, also known as “Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbors' Porch Day," because home
gardens tend to be overflowing with zucchini this time of year.
Our garden isn’t overflowing with zucchini, but we
happily accept donations (especially of small- and medium-size zucchini and
yellow squash) and buy it at farmers markets. At three for $1, usually,
zucchini can’t be beat.
National Zucchini Day is not to be confused with
National Zucchini Bread Day (April 24).
Here are a couple savory ways to get your zucchini
1 cup brown or regular rice,
3 medium zucchini, ends
trimmed, sliced vertical
1 pound ground beef,
1 medium onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 plump cloves garlic,
Salt and pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
Half a pint of grape
tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved (or a half cup of tomato sauce)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese,
Handful of fresh basil, cut
in thin strips
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Cook rice according to
package directions. Put aside. This step can be done in advance.
Slice the zucchini vertical
and hollow out the zucchini to make boats. One way to do this is by using a
melon baller or the edge of a spoon. Put the zucchini flesh in a large bowl and
break it up some with a wooden spoon or potato masher.
Heat some olive oil in a
large pan. Brown the beef and season as desired. Drain well and set aside.
Add the onion and red pepper
to the same pan, adding more oil if needed. Add a pinch of salt. Cook over
medium heat for about seven minutes, until onion is translucent. Add the garlic
toward the end of cooking time. Don’t let it brown. Add the zucchini flesh, stir to combine, break it up further
if needed and continue cooking until zucchini is soft. Toward the end, add the
halved grape tomatoes and continue cooking until they are wilted and soft.
Combine the vegetables,
beef, rice, mozzarella and basil in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and cayenne
(if using) to taste. If necessary to bind everything together, add an egg, some
vegetable broth, tomato juice or tomato sauce. Spoon the filling mixture into
the hollowed out zucchini halves, mounding it. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan
Bake at 375 degrees for
about 30 minutes, until heated through. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Pasta with Summer Vegetable Medley
1 medium onion, diced
1 or 2 carrots, peeled and
1 red pepper, diced
1 medium zucchini and 1
yellow squash, ends trimmed, diced
2 plump cloves garlic,
minced (or to taste)
2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned
well, stems removed, diced (see note)
Half a pint of grape
tomatoes, halved or half a cup of sun-dried tomatoes, cut in strips
Half a cup of oil cured or
kalamata olives, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Pasta cooked according to
Shredded asiago or grated
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Basil leaves or Italian
parsley, to garnish
Heat olive oil in a large
skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrots (if using), and red pepper and a
big pinch of salt. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. Add zucchini and cook
until it begins to soften but still has some bit to it. Add the garlic and
combine well. Add the diced mushrooms and continue cooking. Add the grape tomatoes
and cook until they are softened. Add the olives at the very end and combine
well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Depending on your appetite,
serve about a cup of the vegetable mixture with your favorite pasta, cooked how
you like it. I have been using Barilla’s vegetable farfalle (carrot and squash)
lately and really like it. Top with some cheese and garnish with basil leaves
or Italian parsley. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
eggplant in place of portobellos if you like.
advantages to a small house. There are fewer rooms to clean, for one thing, and
less grass to mow.
space outdoors equals less space to garden. And less space to garden equals
little to no opportunity to grow food, with the exception of basil and other
on this garden box on legs (above) while browsing the Williams-Sonoma website. My first
thought was: How cool is this?! What a great option for space-challenged people
like us, who have no back forty -- just a hill and trees and gravel drive. My
second thought was: Oh, $300 – soil and plants not included.
Fortunately, I live with a very handy man, who makes art and builds things. I asked him
if he could design and build something like the Williams-Sonoma garden box –
compact and on legs -- for us. As you can see, he rose to the challenge.
is an elevated, 30-inch-by-54- inch garden box on a steel frame – quite a bit
bigger than the retail model that inspired it (24 by 36 inches) -- and far less
The box is
made of larch, a locally grown hardwood noted for it strength, durability and
ability to resist water. The lumber cost $40. The frame was custom-made and
welded by Robert's cousin, Ben Poormon, of Steelfab in Weedsport. It cost $100.
At the base
of the box are a couple grids of concrete reinforcing mesh. On top of that went
hay and the soil.
All we need
now is plants, sun and rain. Robert picked up three pepper plants at the
Central New York Regional Market last weekend. We're thinking tomatoes, some
lettuces, herbs and – well, we're not sure what else, exactly.
you know what we decide to plant -- and how our little vegetable garden-in-a-box
grows this summer.
It’s that time of
year: The farmers who grow our food can’t wait to get outside on a daily basis,
feel the warmth of the sun, dig in the nutrient-rich soil and plant their first
And then there are
those who can’t wait to get outside because they’ve been inside all winter,
where it’s balmy and 70-something degrees, growing Swiss chard, pea shoots,
salad greens, herbs and other produce.
“It’s always spring in here,’’ says Mark
Doherty, the founder of Aqua
Vita Farms, an aquaponic farm launched in 2011.
For the uninitiated, aquaponics is a
sustainable system of food production that combines aquaculture (raising fish
in tanks) with hydroponics (growing plants in water) in an interactive indoor environment. The wastewater
from the fish tanks is used to fertilize the plants and the plants, in turn,
clean the water. The purified water is then circulated back to the fish.
At Aqua Vita, row upon
row of grow beds are stacked in tiered systems resembling bunk beds in a 13,000
square foot building that was once part of the Oneida Limited manufacturing
facility in Sherrill.
The advantages of
aquaponic growing are many, Doherty says: It uses far less energy and far less
water than traditional agriculture. The food is fresh, tasty and pesticide free,
designed to be used in surrounding communities, so it doesn’t travel far.
Thanks to aquaponic
growers, even if it’s snowing outside – and the first of our local tomatoes are
still months away – you can enjoy fresh, local greens in your salad bowl.
The greens on plate or
on your sandwich at Turning Stone Resort and Casino and restaurants like Circa
in Cazenovia this time of year are probably from Aqua Vita Farms. Aqua Vita's tilapia, meanwhile, has been featured on the menu at The Tailor and the Cook, in Utica.
containers of Boston lettuce you’ve seen at stores such as Wegmans, Tops and
the Syracuse Real-Food Co-Op? Those are from Ithaca’s Finger Lakes Fresh
Food Hub. The supple spring mix and bright butterhead lettuce that may have
caught your eye at the Central New York Regional Market this winter is probably
from Main Street Farms,
Homer, or Refresh Farms, East
Jamie O’Hern, who owns
Refresh Farms and runs the emerging venture with help from family and friends, harvests
her lettuce early each Saturday morning and brings it to the market. She
usually sells out before noon.
“It doesn’t get any
fresher than that,’’ O’Hern says. “The taste is amazing.’’
Six ounces of lettuce
packed in an eco-friendly bag with the root ball still attached costs $3. Stored
properly, it will last for almost a week. The whole fish on ice at her market
stall is equally fresh: That’s the tilapia raised in tanks as part of the
aquaponic process. The tilapia sells for $5 a pound.
“Most people have
never seen what tilapia really looks like,’’ O’Hern says.
It’s pretty new to
O’Hern, too. Tilapia is firm fleshed, mild flavored and versatile – it can be
adapted to many styles of cooking. The tilapia raised in aquaponics reach full
maturity (one and a half to two pounds) in about a year.
O’Hern got her
introduction to aquaponics at Sunset
Hydroponics and Home Brewing in Syracuse, where she worked as a manager. She
grew tomatoes, basil and lettuce in the basement of her family’s house in
Syracuse before moving to a small space in the building occupied by Syracuse
Tile and Marble in East Syracuse.
She says with a smile
that she learned how to fillet fish by watching a YouTube video. She recommends
that customers bake the tilapia whole. Clean and scale the fish, slit it in
several spots and marinate it for a short time in a vinaigrette dressing made
with oil, vinegar and mustard. Stuff the cavity of the tilapia with herbs and
bake it in a sealed foil pouch (or parchment paper) until the fish flakes
easily with a fork – about 18 to 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
O’Hern, who also works part-time
as a server at Ironwood
Pizza in Manlius, has high hopes for the future of aquaponic farming –
and for Refresh Farms.
She would like to
build a greenhouse aquaponic system to reduce the use of artificial lighting
and add solar panels to the building to help reduce electrical expenses. She
also would like to add more grow beds in order to supply restaurants with fresh
produce. She also would like to help restaurants grow their own food.
don’t have it all figured out,’’ she says, “I’m learning a lot as we go, by
trial and error.
“I do think this is a lot better way to grow
food. We need to rethink how we farm. This is more sustainable.’’
are several aquaponic farms of varying sizes in Central New York and the Finger
Lakes. Most welcome visitors and offer education programs. Some, like Aqua Vita Farms, offer
aquaponics training and consulting. Call or email to inquire about visitor
programs and rates.
Do you know of an aquaponic
grower not included here? Please leave details in a comment (below) so I can
add them. Thank you!
Grindstone Farm's CSA display at the Pride of New York Harvest Festival, 2010
What does CSA stand for? Coffee Supply Agents? Nope. Guess again. Cake-Bakers Specialty Association? Not even close.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. But what does that mean, exactly? If you don’t know, don’t worry. The eat-local and buy-local movement is growing in our region, according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, but most people are still not familiar with CSAs.
CSA means making an up-front, out-of-pocket investment in local farms and farmers for the growing season – and bringing home the benefits in the form of a weekly box “share” of fresh, local produce, usually from late spring to fall.
To give a shoutout to CSA farmers, encourage investment and promote tasty, homegrown food, NOFA-NY is holding a series of CSA Fairs across the state during March and April.
A Syracuse CSA Fair will be held 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (March 10) at Erwin Methodist Church, 920 Euclid Ave., Syracuse. Representatives from a dozen or more farms will be there, explaining their programs, growing schedules, pricing, pick-up and delivery options and more.
Investing in and supporting a CSA farm is something we have talked about at our house, but ultimately decided against.
The pros: We love vegetables. And we like to try new things. So we’re certain we would eat all those vegetables and freeze and/or can what we couldn’t get to. Many CSA farmers provide helpful tips and recipes, either with their shares or on their websites – or both.
The cons: Would we get tired of squash and salad greens? We love to go the farmers markets and roadside stands that dot Central New York and the Finger Lakes. Would our friends at the Regional Market in Syracuse wonder what has become of us?
As with any investment, it’s a personal decision. That’s why the CSA Fairs are a great idea. Educate yourself and ask questions. Some CSA farms offer installment payments and half-shares for smaller households. There is bound to be a CSA program to fit your needs and budget and allay any concerns.
I asked my friend Barbara, who got her introduction to CSA life last year, to share her experiences. This is what she had to say:
“We loved our CSA but we aren't doing it again this year. Our schedules are so crazy now that we're often not here at the same time for dinner. … I don't think there's anything negative at all about the experience. It's pricey ($600 this season), but if you love and use all or most of the food, it's worth it.
“I love pretty much every vegetable, so I never felt overburdened. If I was getting tired of summer squash, I just didn't pick it up that week, but it was pretty rare that I got tired of anything.
“I know that we had a healthier diet -- I was so determined to not waste that beautiful food that we ate a lot more vegetables than we would have otherwise. And there definitely are things we now eat that we wouldn't have if not for the CSA -- garlic scapes and tomatillos come to mind.
“I also just liked the experience of driving to the farm every week -- it wasn't an errand at all but something I always looked forward to. (Isn't it funny how I hate, hate, hate going to the grocery store, but I never mind going to the farmer's market or the farm?)
“Anyway -- it was definitely a great experience, and I'm going to have to kick my gardening up a notch this year.’’