We joined a CSA this year (Community Supported Agriculture). We bought two shares from Helsing Junction Farms in Washington: a mini share and a snack share. It’s actually too much, even for two vegetarians who are trying to eat more vegetables and fruits, but we weren’t sure what to expect.
We pick up our shares once a week. The pick-up spot is just down the street, which is super convenient and really was a deciding factor since, for the most part, we live far away from everything. Our shares are packed in a small box. We transfer everything to bags and then flatten the boxes, part of CSA etiquette.
We have had blueberries, cherries, peaches, apples, arugula, kale, chard, lettuce, green beans, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, radishes, fennel, herbs, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and more. Every week is a little different, but greens and green beans are a recurring item. The other thing that we have had a lot of is cucumbers, and more than one variety. I love cucumbers, and last year I grew a variety called Mideast Peace by Adaptive Seeds based in Sweet Home, Oregon. I have never had success with cucumbers, so I thought this was a long shot. But I liked the name and the description. Wow. These cucumbers are perfect.
My only complaint is that I didn’t grow enough plants, so this year, I doubled the number of plants, and I bought a couple of lemon cucumber plants. As you might expect, lemon cucumbers are about the size and color of a lemon. They are also yummy, and one is the perfect size for two people. Sliced into wedges and sprinkled with Coffee BBQ Rub from Trader Joe’s, lemon cucumbers made a great appetizer.
Well, to borrow a line from that American classic, Airplane, I picked the wrong week to expand my cucumber bed. SO MANY CUCUMBERS. We might typically buy one cucumber a week from the store and use it on salads. Between the CSA and our own garden, some weeks we have had 6-8 or more. Cucumbers aren’t something you freeze or cook. Like our crazy tomato harvest, we started eating them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
We ate them with hummus. We made cucumber peanut salad and cucumber raita. This week we tried a creamy cucumber salad. And still, there was a stack of cucumbers on the counter and a second bunch of dill staring us down. So we considered refrigerator pickles. I’ve heard of these but never tried them. I used this recipe from A Spicy Perspective as a starting point. I didn’t have any pickle jars, so I used a 6-cup rectangular glass container with a snap-on lid, and I went crazy and tripled the recipe. I skipped the mustard seeds simply because I didn’t have any on hand and I added 2 tablespoons of Old Bay Seasoning. I was heavy-handed with the red pepper flakes, added fresh jalapeno rings, and went light on the onion (I used red onion). I used a combination of cucumbers, some small, some large, about 8 or 9, I think. The recipe says to wait 24 hours, but I cheated and had some with a grilled cheese sandwich at around the 18-hour mark. These are darn good. Spicy (hello, red pepper flakes!) but so tasty. How have I lived this long without making refrigerator pickles? Now we want to try to pickle other things! Watch out world!
I was worried that the brine wasn’t quite enough to cover the cucumbers, but I think that it pulled some water from the cukes and worked out perfectly.
Being part of a CSA has reminded me of the importance of staying connected to our food supply and what might be lost without small farms. I realized anew how much food is worth and that low-cost food might have a hidden price tag. When you can see and name the people who grow your food, it changes how you feel about it. Buying direct from a farmer is more personal than picking up your vegetables at a big box store. And when you have a front-row seat to growing conditions, logistics, and harvest mishaps, it creates tremendous empathy for farmers and gratitude for the food in general.
CSAs offer some unusual varieties that push even experienced vegetable eaters like ourselves into new territory. Fresh fava beans? Check. Roma beans? Figured out after one failed attempt. Maybe I accidentally made a smoothie with arugula, but it was still edible. We have also become more nimble with our food stores and better at being creative with what we have. I can’t tell you how many new recipes we tried this summer to use the stockpile of beans, to figure out fennel, to eat up the greens, and to conquer the cucumbers. It pushed us to a new place, and that’s good. It gave our growth mindset a serious workout. I think we all need that. Next up: we plan to pull out the spiralizer* and make Chilled Lemon-Dill Cucumber Noodles from kitchn.
So when life hands you cucumbers — you know what to do.
*If you are wondering if spiralizers are a useful gadget, we have this one, and we use it all the time for zucchini noodles, AKA, zoodles. (I especially like the safety features.)