In the last few years, we’ve known several people who receive veg boxes (CSA shares) in the US. ("Veg" is a British English abbreviation for vegetable that can be singular or plural. In the US we only used veggie(s) this way as far as I remember.) In Germany, we never really felt the need for one. We lived close to a really good twice-weekly market where we were able to get good quality seasonal produce whenever we wanted. In the UK, that hasn’t been the case. There is a monthly market in our neighbourhood, but the produce selection is very limited (and sometimes there isn’t produce at all). We live close to a supermarket and a greengrocer, but both are a little hit-and-miss – so when we got a chance late last spring to try a one-month veg box trial from a local (ish – it’s in Leamington Spa) farm, we decided to give it a shot. It wasn’t just about availability of good produce, but also about forcing ourselves to eat more vegetables. I did buy and make them, but more often I would make one-dish meals like chili, mujaddarah, or basil chicken and not bother with anything else – so we weren’t eating many vegetables. Why not challenge ourselves a bit? The trial became a full-year membership and we’ve been now getting a veg box for about 8 months.
The box comes once a week, and I pick it up at the food co-op where I volunteer. It costs about 14 pounds a week (including membership in the farm and delivery to my neighbourhood) for a medium size, which is on the large side of what two people can get through each week. I often have to give things like potatoes away because we don’t get through them. At one point I’d built up a stash of almost 50 potatoes!
Having to think up ideas to use up the food we have, instead of getting an idea and then shopping for the ingredients, hasn’t always been an easy shift. In the summer, there was all this lettuce. There just aren’t enough interesting things to do with lettuce. Then there was all this pattypan squash. I think it’s delicious, but we’d get 8-10 palm-sized pattypans a week on top of zucchini (aka courgettes) and on a given day you can only get through one or two, so if you don’t have squash every day there could be trouble. We ate a lot of this for a while. One week the fridge went a little crazy for some reason and all the squash froze. I thought I could still use it, but because it had softened after freezing, it almost immediately all started to mold. Then there were the cucumbers. D doesn’t eat those. I pickled like crazy, and even made cucumber bread/cake. It often felt like a race against time to eat everything before it could go bad.
Things have improved with the arrival of winter, because winter vegetables keep so nicely. There’s no panic that the beets and parsnips will go off before the end of the week. Even cabbage lasts a really long time, and winter squashes are the best because they don’t even need to go in the fridge! Speaking of cabbage, though, wow. That’s been the winter version of pattypan squash. I like it, but there is a LOT of it. We get about a cabbage a week. It doesn’t sound like that much but one cabbage goes a really long way!
I’ve learned I like some things I didn’t think I liked – the best example being rocket (aka arugula/rucola). I think I just got unlucky in the past and had bad experiences with it when it was a trendy restaurant ingredient and was thrown in places it maybe didn’t belong. But, being forced to eat it because I can’t stand the thought of wasting anything, I realized I actually love it. I did know I liked Brussels sprouts, but I didn’t realize I liked them this much. I’m always so happy to see a little bag of those in the mix.
Some things, however, haven’t gone over as well. I always thought broad (aka fava) beans were not worth all the trouble of getting at them. And…I still think that. I have no idea how delicious they’d have to be to be worth the prep to me, but they’re not anywhere near that mark. No change on kale, either. Kale is good and I enjoy it, but it’s not the orgasmic life-changing vegetable that Pinterest would have you believe. Then there’s my changing attitude toward green beans - in Germany I was always wishing they were more cheaply available. Now I don’t know why I did – I’m just not that into them. I end up throwing them into stew just to get them out of the way.
I also learned that you can’t drown a slug. Well, maybe you can. But it would take a long time. Baby slugs often come in with the greens and I leave the greens in water for a little bit in an attempt to get them all out. I end up finding the slugs at the bottom of the bowl of water with their antennae all tucked in. They climb up the side of the bowl and out of the water, then pop their antennae out. Truth is, it’s cute as hell, but then I have a slug to get rid of and I often wish it had just passively drowned without me having really known.
It’s been good overall, I think. When our year is up, though, we might downgrade from a medium to a small. The size of the medium has had some downsides. There are times when we really wish to make a certain dish – we haven’t made that beloved mujaddarah in months – but feel that we just can’t fit it in what with all the vegetables. It also takes some of the fun out of going out to eat with friends or getting the occasional curry, knowing that this means there’s no way you’re going to get that bag of turnips out of the way before the next load of turnips arrives. Also, we just signed up for an allotment, so maybe we'll have a few vegetables of our own to eat this year! (Not to be overly optimistic....)
Before my comments fill up with these common suggestions that I get whenever the topic of vegetable gluts comes up, I know that I can make broth, mash, or whatever else and stick it in my freezer. My freezer is jam packed right now with frozen vegetable broth, frozen mashed potatoes, frozen braised cabbage, frozen pumpkin puree, and frozen stew. There’s hardly room for a pint of ice cream now. I give away vegetables pretty often, too. We are not going to starve, that’s for sure!
Have you ever gotten a CSA share or veg box? How did you manage when there were bumper crops or large amounts of something you just aren’t that into? What did you love or dread to see in the box?