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Roots, Fruits, Leaves and Spice

by Rebecca Cecere Seward

Planning for a CSA is a difficult lesson in making choices, as I have found these last two seasons, and I often have to think more like an eater than a farmer when considering what will fulfill our CSA members’ needs. My formula for what can provide a hearty amount of choices in a family’s week of meal planning is the title of this essay: roots, fruits, leaves, and spice.

The definition of roots is actually variable depending on the season: it roughly translates into starchy foods, or those that we can easily use as a base in our meals. For example, in high summer we have so few roots, and tons of fruits, but squash and eggplant can often serve that starchy function in our daily eating. It will be potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, beets, even pumpkin or winter squash as the season continues. High calories, a heartier texture, and the ability to take on other flavors in a meal make up the “roots” of our CSA box.

Fruits, as one would describe them botanically, contain seeds. Culinarily, they are prepared sweetly. I meet somewhere in the middle, and define the fruits that we pack as those foods that are high water content, have a more distinct flavor, and occasionally are sweet. The example in this case could be tomatoes, or figs or, in the winter, winter squash. These are the flavors that provide the high notes in your meal.

While leaves are a little tricky in summer, their need in our diets provides the farmer with a few creative solutions. We will find an abundance of leaves in spring, fall, and winter: kale, asian greens, lettuces, salad mix. It is a colorful abundance of green flavors these times of year. In the summer we fall back on the heat-tolerant swiss chard, the unusual New Zealand spinach, and the rich dramatic basil (which can also double as spice). I find I miss green food in summertime, and do my best to plan for their rare inclusion in our crop plan.

Spice is white food: garlic, onions, horseradish; or it is the hardy herbs, the sour sorrel, the aromatic basil. It is what gives our food its ultimate distinction, it flavors our starch and brings together our notes. I find the spice to be the element I start with in the weekly box planning, and I determine what may go well in a dish with the spice from there. The spice is often the most blatantly nutritious element, it may get your blood flowing, or have any number of medicinal “side effects.”

These four food elements, which I believe create the desired variety for any vegetable-oriented household, are obviously heavily reliant on seasonal eating. We will probably eat more greens in fall, more fruits in summer. But by following this basic outline of crop-planning, and therefore, box-packing, we can hopefully be perpetually trying something different while still maintaining a varied diet. So we can help you to eat the rainbow of nutritious foods that will continue to allow you to be well!

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