The weekly surprise: What to do with the farm box

I have an innate distrust of stores like Trader Joe’s and Publix, where produce is shrink-wrapped onto a styrofoam tray. Often, the pieces hidden on the bottom are blemished or rotten. If I only want to buy one bell pepper, instead of three, I can’t do it.

That’s what I love about a farmer’s market or a good grocery store. I can walk in and grab exactly the amount of produce I need to make one batch of minestrone, or wilted asparagus and apple salad. A half pound of asparagus, one apple, and a small head of lettuce cost a couple of dollars, and the leftovers don’t go to waste.

Being able to do that is a real luxury. On the other hand, a garden provides a different kind of luxury. If you love asparagus, you can have six pounds at a go. We ate ripe juicy pears until they came out our ears this year, then juiced dozens with lime juice. Speaking of ears, there is nothing like fresh corn — you run to the stove after you pick it, and it’s as sweet as candy.

Somewhere in between these two forms of luxury is my sister’s choice, the farm box.

Julie and Ed sign up for a farm box every year. During the summer and into the fall, a local farm provides them with a weekly box of random fruits and vegetables. They have all the benefits of fresh, organic, local produce without doing the work.

Opening the box is like having your birthday every week — you never know what will be in there. One week might have strawberries, lettuce, and tomatoes. Another week there are apples and beets and broccoli. When fall comes, it’s time to learn the difference between turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips.

I love the idea of the farm box and the local produce. I love the fact that the food doesn’t travel all the way from Argentina or Chile in a refrigerated container. Everything is dull, with a little dirt on it. There’s no wax.

The challenge is what to do with the stuff. Like the person with their own garden, you don’t just get one of each item. You might have to eat cucumbers or rutabagas three times this week.

That’s where the Internet comes in. The food may be local, but the recipes you use can come from anywhere in the world. This week, Stephen, at wrote about jerusalem artichokes. He’s over in Maine someplace. I recently unearthed a Pacific Islands site with lots of information about preparing seafood. Their fruits and vegetables may be very different from ours, but fish is fish. I’ve even started trying to decipher recipes in Portuguese, since Brazilian foods are among my favorites.

The easiest thing to do is just Google for the ingredients you have on hand. Green beans, bacon, and onions combine to bring back plenty of hits. Banana, strawberry, and kiwi go together to make a tart. Even lemon, apple, and tuna can be combined in a search that returns some tasty salad recipes.

I recently ran some searches for herbed roasted turnips, but I didn’t find much. I had to modify a potato recipe. Now, if you search for “herbed roasted turnips” (in quotes), guess what you find? My recipe!