CSA Full Share in Modesto, CA

I’m traveling (via airplane – that’s right, I’m the extra lap!) with younger sister Missy and her nearly-ten month old twins Aidan and Hailey to visit older sister Patti, husband Loel and their son Liam. In anticipation of our arrival in Modesto, CA my older sister Patti had requested that her family receive the full CSA share from Rancho Piccolo farm. Ordinarily they split the share with a friend, but said friend claimed that the holiday food-blitz would keep her well fed and yielded her half to us. Patti also admitted that they usually throw some portion of the vegetables away; my task is to avoid that plight this time around.

Loel, Liam, dog Beqa and I walked to the local health food store, the Carrot, to pick up the share on Thursday, 12/28. When we arrived a reefer truck was parked outside, and a fellow was shuttling boxes into the store on a hand truck. I went inside, examined the stack of labeled boxes, found ours, and signed it out. We shoved the box under the tri-wheeled stroller, brought along specifically for ferrying the produce back; later, when Liam tired and rode for a bit, he said he could feel the veggies ‘under his bum’. (Sona vula vulu was his nickname in Fiji this past year – white bum). On the way back from the pickup we stopped at a local park; I was astonished to observe that the park is planted in olive trees and that this year must be a bumper crop. The olives filled the limbs and littered the ground, all colors ranging from deep reddish purple to brown to black, several inches thick in some places. The olive leaves were light green and attenuated, not unlike the color of sage, and the trees themselves are stately and graceful. While I admired the yield, and the colors, and the smell, I question the wisdom of fruit-bearing trees over and around a playground; carpet tapenade, anyone?

When Patti joined us at home we carefully pulled the newsletter out of the box, and then one by one admired each bunch of vegetables. Our full share included: 1 bunch white turnips, 1 bunch beets (with goodlooking greens attached), 1 bunch multicolored carrots (among the best hand-grown carrots I have seen – the Virginia clay seems to retard their vertical growth!), 1 bunch curly kale and 1 bunch swiss chard (both bunches just gorgeous, composed of smallish, brilliantly colored leaves), 1 bunch baby dill (‘dill weed! my favorite! exclaims Missy), 1 stubby leek, 2 small bulbs fennel, 3 fuyu persimmons, and 1/2 head red cabbage.

I fill one side of the sink and wash all of the vegetables for tonight’s meal. I decide to sautee all the greens for dinner, including the beet greens, figuring the fresher the better. We’re also having white bean ragout (using the leek) with dill and kielbasa, and a butter lettuce and citrus salad with braised fennel and slivered almonds. The salad is a reprise of the Lemesis, a salad from New Year’s Eve 2005 – thusly titled due to Lem’s dislike of fennel, which I feel we overcame that night by slowly braising the fennel in blood orange juice. In this incarnation, the grapefruit comes from the backyard and is super-tart and fragrant. Aah, California. The dinner is a hit – even the dark leafy greens, which cook down and provide us with about two bites per person; perhaps that’s just the right amount, because I have never mastered a preparation of dark greens that tastes good the next day.

On various outings around the neighborhood we marvel at the citrus: grapefruit, mandarin, oranges and lemons in the yard; persimmons EVERYWHERE and very easy to spot due to the leafless trees and the distinctive orange color; rumors of pomegranate, but no real examples (Patti claims that all of their poms get stolen from the yard). On a brief road trip with Loel and Liam to Knight’s Ferry we pass miles and miles of nut orchards – almond and walnut, primarily, but certainly other varieties to the discerning eye. The trees are bare and fairly squat due to diligent pruning; they fan out from the road in row upon row, with an occasional fallen soldier to break the pattern. The plantings are mostly just below the level of the road for ease of irrigation; Loel explains that flood irrigation requires a level orchard but very little else in terms of energy to irrigate, while spray irrigation can cover less even ground but requires both equipment (and requisite upkeep) and power to establish water pressure.

I wake one morning having dreamed of persimmons, and later a friend in VA asks that I bring back some citrus as she thinks she may be getting scurvy. When I ask about shipping back a box of citrus, my idea is pooh poohed (‘you only brought one bag! let’s pack a box – Loel can make you a handle!’ says Patti. Good ole Loel has been putting handles on boxes for years now, and acquiesces with a grin). Patti calls the elderly neighbor across the street, Bernice, to ask if we can harvest persimmons from her tree, and she consents. The tree is about 30 years old, she remembers. It is laden with fruit, some very ripe and some still firm to the touch. I pick some of both, hoping to tote the less-ripe fruit back to the East Coast.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and in homage to the persimmon we decide to dye my hair red. I covet the color and want it for my own. It doesn’t turn out as red as I expected, but the activity is fun and makes me feel like I have a special outfit for the evening. I also research persimmon recipes before we head to the store to come up with an idea for the small party Patti and Loel are hosting to ring in the new year.

Patti takes me to O’Brien’s (but not the closest store to them – this one is newer, and has a better cheese section). I ask the cheesemonger to introduce me to some local and regional cheeses, letting him know what I have tried on the East Coast. He steers me to a smoked bleu, a local triple cream brie, and then recommends a variation on epoisse under the Berthauld name (which I’m told is a subregion). We also try Fra’mani Gentile, an artisanal salami brand from Seattle that I am familiar with and devoted to; I opt for some Spanish lomo to round out the selection and then we shop for apples, pears, crackers, tapenade, and beautiful black grapes.

When we return home I lay out the cheeses and let them come to room temperature. I begin work on the persimmon creation, which is chopped arugula tossed in fresh citrus vinaigrette with persimmon chunks, macerated red onion, and hazlenuts scooped into endive spears and fanned out on a plate. If I were to make it again I would add a dollop of creme fraiche – it is New Years, after all. I am eager to try the wines made by their winemaking club called Woof Woof Winery; each year they create clever names that marry the varietal or blend name with something doggy. Highlights from this (and past) years are: Forti-Fido, Tempra-neutered, I Shih-Tzu Not…

Next stab at the vegetable share is the ole roasted root vegetables. I prepare the beets separately as Missy expresses her heartfelt disdain; the mix includes kohlrabi, turnips, celery, fennel, red onion, and some dill and fennel fronds. I toss them in olive oil and roast them for about an hour, and we eat them with rice and green salad and overcooked tuna. That’s right, I overcooked the tuna. I reminded Missy that beets can turn your poop and your pee red; however, since she didn’t eat them I really should have reminded Patti instead – apparently she had an early morning colon cancer panic…

It’s Thursday again, and Loel and I have crafted a plan to get some sublime citrus back to Virginia. In addition to the persimmons, we go across the street to harvest navel oranges into a double-wide milk crate; Liam and Loel stand on the ladder and toss them down to me. The smell of the orange peel oil is overwhelming, and the softball size fruit make my palms sting when I catch them. Next we return to their backyard, scale the ladder, and harvest a lesser amount of yellow grapefruit. When I asked Loel if he knows anyone who has pink or ruby red grapefruit he replied ‘no’ without hesitating; I wonder why not? Some wild hybrid that is only available for commercial production? Does somebody own the variety? Ms. Ruby Red, grapefruit magnate? On our way out to run some errands, we stop by a house a few blocks away and I knock on the door to ask if we can harvest the pomegranates we see hanging between their yard and the next. The older couple is as friendly as can be, and assures us that they have had their fill for the year and we are welcome to all the fruit we’d like. They even put a ‘picker’ on the front porch for us to use when we return! The tree is pretty well picked over and the fruit that’s left is mostly split and starting to blacken, but we pick a basketful and return home.

Thursday also means another CSA pickup, which we forget to take care of when we are out, so I strike out in the pickup and zig and zag around the neighborhood until I find the store. While I know I won’t be cooking any of these vegetables, I still unpack them and try to tuck them away in a manner that will keep them fresh. This week’s full share includes: 1 head butter lettuce (so beautiful!), two heads of frisee (not my favorite), three compact radicchio balls, one bunch carrots, several organic Fuji apples (on the small side, but perfect looking).

I’m headed back to the east coast laden with 35 pounds of citrus, and having shipped back a small box of Sciabica’s Oil of the Olive for myself and as gifts for friends. While I was there we ate a lot of local food and talked a lot about their agricultural and food and wine community, and upon reflecting on that (with a baby dozing on my lap) I realize that this is my job – source the food, prepare the food, ask questions, and find a way to share the fleeting harvest with as many people as I can. When the airline attendant asks “what’s in this box?” I respond blithely “Christmas presents” and it feels true.


~ by a local notion on January 11, 2008.

One Response to “CSA Full Share in Modesto, CA”

  1. Ahhh…California…isn’t it heaven! I’m envious of all your fruits! Sounds like a wonderful food adventure and what a delicious meal your prepared. I love reading your blog. Keep it up girlfriend!

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