I have a love/hate relationship with CSA’s. I love the premise…buying local fruits and vegetables to support the farms and growers in the area. Or, as one of the more popular local CSA’s says:
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a mutually beneficial relationship between farmers and the community. Participants provide funding for the farmer in advance of the growing season in exchange for produce when it’s ready. Items vary according to the season. They could be beets, lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes, a watermelon — whatever is ripe for picking.
Sounds like a win-win, right? As much I want to say the answer is yes, I can’t.
Because a traditional CSA obligates you to participate every week for the length of the season. Considering that I don’t know what life is going to throw my way from week to week to week, how in the world does it makes sense for me to commit to 24 weeks of anything, let alone produce buying? Not to mention the fact that despite my best intentions, sometimes the produce I bring home doesn’t get used up in a week. It often lingers and takes up the limited amount of storage space in the crisper and on the counter. If I manage to line up a weekend get away, I can skip my pickup but I’ve still paid for that week. So in the larger picture the produce just got more expensive on a per item basis.
Selection flexibility varies by grower. Some prepackage the shares which means that you get what you get. Other growers allow you to pick your items week to week from whatever they have available. There is no set guideline so it is up to each CSA to decide how much flexibility you get in selecting your items.
Did I mention that you pay up front for your spot? Prices vary but a full share (typically 6-8 selections per week) will run between $500 and $600. Averaged out, it’s about $20 to $25 per week which certainly is a great value. But I would be hard pressed to come up with that kind of cash in a single transaction. Sure you can sign up for a half share for a slightly lower cost or split a share with someone. And some CSA’s even allow you to pay the cost in three or four payments. Personally, cost has been probably the biggest factor preventing me from really jumping on the CSA wagon.
My last issue with CSA’s is that the pick up isn’t convenient for me. Could I get myself to the farmer’s market at 8am on a Saturday? I suppose. But I’m not inclined to. Could I arrange to get to a pickup location on a weekday? That’s even less likely given that I’ve usually got a small person in tow and at the end of the work day, neither of us wants to sit in rush hour traffic to pick up some veg…we’d rather go home and veg.
These are the reasons that I have poo-pooed CSA’s.
But then I stumbled across a CSA, on Facebook of all places, that seemed like it had been created just for me. There’s no long term commitment. I get to decide from week to week if I want to purchase anything. That alone makes me giddy.
No long term commitment means that I pay as I go. So I don’t have to come up with a chunk of cash to “secure” my share at the beginning of the growing season. That makes my checkbook happy.
There are multiple share sizes…fruit share, vegetable share, half share, full share, double share, dairy share, egg share. The choices are almost dizzying. So I’m able to select the option that is right for me. As if that wasn’t enough flexibility, I can request a substitution here and there. If they can accommodate the request, they do! In my last pickup, I was able to sub out two butternut squash for the week’s kale and watermelon…I totally got the better end of that. And if I want to add some a la carte items, I can do that too. I’ve come home with local butter, bacon, and berries thanks to a bit of impulse buying at pick up.
As if that wasn’t enough to arouse my interest, I get a three day pickup window. All I have to do is say which day and be there between Noon and 7pm. Seriously, even I can fit in a ride down the highway at some point on a Saturday or Sunday….sometimes even a Monday if the stars align. That makes my overprogrammed schedule happy.
My discovery of this Wendi-friendly CSA is how I came to be in possession of a crate of local Honey Crisp apples. On a weekday afternoon. At home alone. When The Universe gives me this kind of gift, you better believe I take full advantage of it.
So I pulled out a recipe for Apple Cake with Caramel Sauce and got peeling, chopping, and baking. I may have taken a few liberties with the recipe and had a complete fail on my first attempt to get the sugar to cook into caramel, but I reveled in the luxury of having the freedom to get my hands, and my pans, dirty, and in finding a CSA that works on my terms.
Apple Upside Down Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2013
BAH Note: Bon Appetit gave this a fancy French name but when you strip away all the fancypants Francais, it’s an apple upside down cake. I think the cake shines brightly enough on its own that I’m saying the caramel sauce is optional. If you’d like to exercise that option, click on the link to Bon Appetit above and you can access the caramel sauce recipe.
- 10 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 pounds tart apples (Pink Lady, Honey Crisp, Braeburn), peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2″ thick
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- zest of 1 lemon
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9″ round cake pan with parchment. Butter and flour the pan and set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add apples and 2 tablespoons sugar and cook until the apples become golden brown, approximately 10 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow the apples to cool slightly while you prepare the cake batter.
Whisk together the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla.
Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
Spread the apples into the bottom of the prepared pan. Pour the batter over the apples and bake until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, approximately 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Flip the cake out of the pan onto the rack, remove the parchment, and allow the cake to cool completely.