At the end of last November this box of locally grown produce was the grand prize of a raffle at a fund raiser for Waltham Community Farms. All of the vegetables had been harvested from the farm, most in the previous day or two. Even at that late date in the season, it was astounding to see what could be grown in the cold soils of New England. I admired the deep purple of the cabbage and the beautiful angles of the vibrant chartreuse romanesco broccoli and bought a few tickets from my friend, considering them a donation. I harbored no illusions that I might win. And, as I was about to leave for a ten day overseas trip, followed by a visit to see family over the Christmas holidays (where food was plentiful), I did not even dare dream about the roasts or soups or sautes I might make with that bounty.
That is, until I won.
The next morning – the day of my flight – we saute-ed up the most tender baby bok choy with eggs and I stored what I could fit of the vegetables in the crisper drawers, putting the two cabbages into paper bags and tucking them into the back of the fridge. I knew my husband wasn’t likely to eat much while I was gone, so I hoped that there would still be a few items unspoiled, to be eaten when I returned.
Two weeks later, I returned home, my favorite souvenirs were little baggies of spices from my travels. My first night home I added a tablespoon of ras al hanout to a few chopped turnips, potatoes and onions from the box, along with a pound of local skirt steak. These cooked slowly on the stove with some oil and just a bit of wine – my jet-lagged version of the Moroccan tagine I so wanted my husband to taste.
A few days later, the broccoli and cauliflower, only a bit brown around the edges even after three weeks, was roasted in the oven and tossed with homemade feta from the farmer’s market. I felt virtuous – the last healthy meal before a trip to my hometown, where cookies and lasagna and roast beef were plentiful. Once again I wished my winter vegetables well, and hoped I wouldn’t be throwing any away when I returned.
Collards were good luck in the new year, I had heard, and so I sliced the still green (if a bit wilted) leaves into thin ribbons and tossed them, damp, in a pan with crisp bacon to further wilt in a combination steam-saute. They were delicious that night alongside sausage, and great the next morning with eggs, with home fries made from a thinly sliced sweet potato browned and seasoned with cayenne. Miraculously it seemed, it had been over a month since I brought home my vegetable winnings – and nothing had yet gone bad.
Throughout the first month of the year, the last carrots and leeks made it into a split pea soup. The final potatoes, rutabega and celariac roasted with olive oil or chopped and added to homemade chicken soup. The shallots were thinly sliced and caramelized, turning an average stove-top burger into one worthy of a gastropub. I served it alongside parsnip fries, roasted at high heat with a hefty dose of olive oil and a toss of paprika.
Then, on a very cold and damp evening at the end of January, the purple cabbage was thinly sliced with a few cloves of garlic and added to a deep skillet with sausage, herbe de provence and cider vinegar. The vibrant color cheered me on one of the grayest days of the season; the sweet and pungent flavors were reminiscent of hearty French cooking, belying the ingredients’ humble origins.
It is now the first week of February and all that is left of my winnings is a still-very-hearty-looking head of curly-leafed cabbage. I am considering stuffing the leaves with ground lamb and raisins seasoned with Moroccan spices, harkening back to one of my first meals from the box so many weeks before. Or maybe I’ll slice it into a fresh slaw, drizzled with a mustard vinaigrette. Yet, I don’t feel a need to cook it any time soon. As the sole survivor among its brethren, plucked from the earth more than ten weeks hence have shown, there are many vegetables that can be stored for months in nothing more fancy than a refrigerator crisper drawer.
I still remember that feeling: the number on my ticket matching the one announced from stage. Winning anything is exciting – the rush to the stage, the cheering, the adrenaline. But I didn’t realize until today that I won so much more than just a box full of vegetables.