On Thursday I allowed myself just over an hour and a half to make some Green Tomato Chutney. Two weeks in a row, my Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) farm share included green tomatoes, and while I had been excited to try out the iconic Fried Green Tomatoes of the south, our farmers had challenged us to think beyond this classic use for our end-of-the-season tomatoes. Not wanting to limit myself, I clicked the link that was included in our weekly email.
There were a surprising amount of unique and creative recipes listed, but it was the chutney that caught my eye. Despite the fact that the recipe’s measurements were in grams and included two ingredients not commonly found in Michigan, the chutney was touted as “delicious with cheese and crackers and spread upon sandwiches.” I was sold. An added bonus, it seemed a quick way to use up, and save, my green tomatoes for the bleak mid-winter.
I tasted the remainder from the spoon when the chutney was done bubbling on the stove, and it tasted quite nice. However, the recipe indicated it would taste best after a month-long wait. Even more, I expect this chutney might just about sing come January.
Are you familiar with CSAs? On a basic level, the idea is that you pay for a share of the vegetables, and your local farmers then have the financial support they need to grow the crops. In my case, during the months of May through October I receive fresh, local, seasonal produce weekly.
Every Saturday morning, I come home from my CSA pick-up beaming and scheming about the best ways to use the veggies, and there are always lots of them. You really have to eat a lot, and plan a lot, if you are going to use it well. Admittedly, it takes some getting used to.
I was nervous when I first joined my local CSA, Eighth Day Farms, five or six years ago. I thought I might be inundated by vegetables. Then, early on during my first year I received an enormous bok choy, so big it didn’t even begin to fit in my produce drawer. I was terrified!
What was this thing?!? And, how in the world was I supposed to store it, let alone eat it?!?
This is one reason many people are “afraid” of joining a CSA. My own husband was very uninterested in subscribing for fear of too many kohlrabies, his very least favorite of all vegetables and one he had long been able to avoid in the United States.
In fact, the CSA does provide us with a regular assortment of new and/or unusual vegetables throughout the growing season, but they come right alongside the familiar lettuces, beans, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. I’ve learned, gratefully, that vegetables are not to be feared. They are to be enjoyed. While we still don’t love kohlrabi, we now tend to enjoy the bok choy.
Over the years I have researched, tested out, and both saved and discarded many recipes for vegetables familiar and new to me. I’m sort of a recipe geek, and probably a reasonably large cooking nerd, so this is a good fit for me. But, the topmost reason that I love my CSA is the way that it connects me to the earth, to my place.
All summer long, and well into the winter, my family can eat locally grown vegetables. Quite a few of the fall crops store well and find their way onto our table throughout early winter. Not to mention the summer abundance that allows me to freeze and preserve a good amount of veggies that last us well into spring. (I’m looking at you, frozen pesto!!)
There is something spectacular about tasting a summer day in February. It might be the extra bag of green beans that I froze because we’d already eaten beans three weeks in a row during July. Even better, it could be the roasted tomato soup that I will pull out for lunch in March, that I made in excess this past August. Plus, there is the chutney to look forward to. These things taste fresh and familiar all year long. They taste of the abundance of the earth around me, in my place: Holland, Michigan.
In fact, I’ve learned that my vegetable share connects me not only to my place, but to the creator. This time of year we can go for a walk, scuffling through curled and crunchy leaves, and look up to startlingly red, or yellow, or still-green leaves. It reminds us of the way our brilliant creator links life and death.
We can go to the seashore and hear the waves breathe in and out, and still hear the high-noted screech of a gull amidst the wind. We hear that the creator is a musician, allowing creation to breathe and sing praise. In summer, there is the rich warmth of the sun upon our skin, and the juice of a watermelon that runs down our elbow. In this we know a tender designer who cares for and nourishes us in so many ways. These examples are just a few of the ways that our bodies point us to our maker.
When I taste the produce of the earth in my CSA share it reminds me of the creator who scooped up earth, formed the first being. We are earth-made and connected to the maker. Our bodies remind us of this in the red, autumnal leaf, the crying gull, the dripping watermelon, and sometimes, by way of the green tomato chutney.