Today we picked up our first CSA box from JR Organics at the Little Italy Farmers’ Market. A CSA is basically a food subscription. I paid for four weeks up front. Every Saturday, we will pick up our box of veggies from the stand at the market. It’s a great way to get to know where our food comes from. It also encourages adventurous eating (and cooking!) because the veggies in the box vary from week to week and season to season. The quality of local, organic produce really can’t be beat. Surprisingly, the cost is comparable to what we would pay in a grocery store, but the food is always fresher straight from the farm. But my real reason for signing up? Now that I have a veggie CSA subscription and a Da-Le Ranch meat subscription, I feel like I can wear my Southern California locovore badge with pride. (Alright, so I can’t afford Spring Hill’s delicious cheese just yet. But cloth diapers + 85% locally sourced food qualifies as crunchy enough, right?)
After foraging at the farmers’ market, it’s tempting to shove the vegetables in the fridge and crash on the couch. The problem with that plan is that the veggies end up lurking in the corners of the fridge and never get washed, prepped, or used. Even if they do make their way into a few meals, improperly prepped and stored veggies lose their nutritional value quickly.
I’ve been reading a brilliant book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. This woman is a produce guru. She discusses the origins of our modern fruits and veggies. (Did you know that modern sweet corn is the product of nuclear bomb experiments? More on that later.) She also goes into depth about the best ways to prep and store vegetables and fruit to maximize their nutritional value. I found this information the most useful, and I hope you do too. Here’s the Cliff Notes version of how to prep and store lettuce and greens (kale, chard, herbs, and other salad greens). Without further ado, lettuce talk about lettuce and greens. (Can you blame me for the pun?)
Prepping and Storing Lettuce and Greens
To get the most of your lettuce and greens (and herbs, for that matter), soak them in cold water for ten minutes as soon as you bring them home from the market. This will lower their internal temperature and increase their water content. The cool temperature slows the aging process. After ten minutes, spin the greens until they are totally dry. Water inside the greens keeps them crisp, whereas water on the outside of the greens causes them to decay.
Here’s a fun fact. Greens double in antioxidant value when they are torn into pieces before being stored. When you tear lettuce, it responds to the injury by increasing its phytonutrient content. If you eat it within a day or two, you’ll be consuming up to twice the antioxidants than if you had stored the leaves whole. If you’re planning on saving the greens for a few days, store the leaves whole and then tear them a day prior to serving.
Greens continue to breathe after being harvested. If they are stored in airtight bags like the ones from the grocery store, carbon dioxide quickly takes over. They begin to decay within a few days. If they are stored in an open drawer or loosely wrapped in a towel, the opposite is true – they take in too much oxygen and rapidly lose all of their nutritional value. The solution? A “microperforated” bag– a resealable plastic bag with several tiny pin pricks in it. Jo Robinson prescribes exactly ten tiny holes per gallon sized bag, so I figure I should do what she says. Store them in the crisper drawer of the fridge. They’ll stay crisp and nutritious for several days. Of course, it’s best to eat them within a couple days if possible.