Best Book for Maximizing the Farmer’s Market/CSA Experience!

28 Jul

 

DON’T PANIC and Always Bring a Reusable Bag

The more farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture farms that pop up all over Long Island and its environs, the better we like it. There is better, fresher produce, we can support the local economy and we can feel healthy and virtuous as we bring our boxes of glorious stuff into our kitchens to be converted into all manner of delicious dishes.

But ‘fess up…sometimes you have no idea what that lump of vegetable with the fan-like greens is, much less what to do with it. How do you store it? How do you prepare it? What is it called?

Well, DON’T PANIC. As The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is to interplanetary travelers, so is the Field Guide to Produce to intrepid locavores.

This handy guide to most any fruit or vegetable you might encounter at a greenmarket or specialty supermarket will fit in your backpack or good-size handbag (or your reusable bag). It has more than 200 color images of produce, as well as information on the history and lore of each (e.g. “The ancient Egyptians and Greeks ate wild asparagus shoots as a rare spring delicacy” and “In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve covered their bodies with fig leaves, and Cleopatra hid the poisonous asp she used to take her life in a basket of figs”).

The nitty-gritty is right there with the history lesson; Green tells you how to select the produce at its peak, how to store it (and whether it can be frozen) and basic guidelines on what to do with it when you are ready to slice, dice and create something delicious. For the independent traveler, she includes flavor affinities for each item (e.g.  parsnips: “apples, brown butter, brown sugar, cream, curry, leeks, oranges, root vegetables, stews and ragouts, truffles.”)  setting you off on your own path to culinary greatness.

Before Field Guide to Produce, I pretty much sautéed anything I didn’t recognize from my C.S.A. pick-up in garlic and oil and called it a day. If it was particularly nice-looking, I’d stick it in a vase for a centerpiece that looked great, but never got eaten. Now, emboldened by my trusty Guide, I am roasting, stir-frying, steaming and experimenting with great confidence and a certain savoir faire that I didn’t have before. And where I used to ignore the vegetables that stumped me until they got rather nasty in the fridge, now I am using every bit of my weekly take, either fresh or in frozen form. Come the long, cold winter, I will be pulling great Long Island summer flavors out of the ice box, thanks in part to Aliza Green. Share and Enjoy.

Field Guide to Produce: How to Identify, Select, and Prepare Virtually Every Fruit and Vegetable at the Market by Aliza Green, Quirk Books 2004

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