Kenneth Cole might be a name that appears on lots of people’s Christmas lists, but if you’re all about shopping and eating locally, you may be more interested in learning about Ken Cole, an organic apple farmer with deep roots in Western North Carolina. Cole has supplied both the apples and the applesauce recipe used by Blue Ridge Food Ventures' Winter Sun Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Modeled on an initiative pioneered in the Hudson Valley region of New York state, Winter Sun Farms is now in its fifth year of bringing the bounty of summer harvests to its members throughout the cold and cropless months of winter.
Subscribers to the CSA get about eight bags of food in each monthly pickup December through March, but unlike programs that run through the warmer months, most of the food in this program has been cleaned, chopped, diced, pureed and/or parboiled before being vacuum-sealed and frozen. The result is convenient portions of fresh, local food that make holiday cooking a breeze.
For example, the butternut squash puree eliminates the need to saw the squash open, roast it and scoop out the flesh before making use of it in a recipe. All it takes is a quick reheat, and you can make a great soup, dessert (see recipe on page 43) or a quick dip that’s perfect for bringing along to parties. It can even be used in pretty much any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin.
This year, Winter Sun Farms will also deliver pesto, which makes an easy dinner with fresh-from-the-garden flavor when tossed with some pasta, as well as an asparagus puree that can be turned into a soup with just a few additional ingredients. Then there’s applesauce, which makes a scrumptious side dish all on its own. This year’s featured applesauce was made from Rome apples with the skins left on, so the puree has a festive reddish color.
To help members make the best use of the ingredients they receive, Winter Sun Farms maintains a database of recipes on its website. Subscribers to the CSA also get to enjoy a winter filled with summer treats like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries as well as diced tomatoes and peppers.
According to Chris Reedy, Blue Ridge Food Ventures executive director, CSA members aren’t the only ones who benefit from Winter Sun Farms. He says the program helps farmers grow and sell more as well.
“You have a farmer who goes to a tailgate market, and he’s going to get premium prices,” he says, “but he’s also going to spend all day there, or he’s going to pay someone to be there.” Reedy says farmers can sell to restaurants, but they must submit to extremely exacting quality standards and often can sell only small quantities. But with the Winter Sun Farms program, he says, “we buy large quantities; we bought 800 pounds of peppers [this season], and these 800 pounds of peppers will be processed, and we’ll get 400-600 packages out of them. So what we’ll be able to do is then offer that farmer a wholesale route, so he can drop 800 pounds and not worry about it.”
Renae Moss Brooks of Blue Ridge Apple Growers echoes the positive effects Winter Sun Farms has had on the local farming community. “Any time and any way that a grower can sell their product locally is a good thing,” she says. “And we believe that is what the Winter Sun Farms program provides for Moss Farms, not to mention the healthy benefits that the program is ensuring for their recipients.”
Winter Sun Farms Butternut Squash Custard with Ginger and Cinnamon
½ cup WSF butternut squash puree
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 cups evaporated milk or any milk you have in your refrigerator
1 large egg plus 2 large yolks
Bring 1 quart water to boil for a water bath. Set eight 6-ounce custard cups in two 8-inch square pans. (Brownie pans or disposable pans work well. I used my turkey roaster, and they all fit fine.)
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.
Heat pumpkin, ginger and cinnamon in a medium saucepan over medium heat until puree sputters and flavors intensify, 3 to 4 minutes.
Whisk in brown sugar, then milk, and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, whisk eggs and yolks in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk hot-pumpkin mixture into eggs, then pour into custard cups.
Set pans in oven and carefully pour in enough hot water to come halfway up sides of cups.
Bake until custards are set, about 20-30 minutes.
Remove custard cups from baking dish and cool slightly. Lay plastic wrap directly over each custard to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until ready to serve.
Winter Sun Farms produce shares can be collected on Tuesdays at the Flat Rock Tailgate Market; Wednesdays at Blue Ridge Food Ventures at A-B Tech’s Enka campus; inside the Grove Arcade on Thursdays; and at the Grow Down Home Market in Black Mountain on Saturdays. For the first time this year, the program will be expanding to Greenville, S.C. with a pickup at the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery on Mondays. The total cost for the four-month share is $125 for pickup at Blue Ridge Food Ventures, while pickups in Black Mountain, downtown Asheville and Flat Rock incur an additional $10 convenience fee.
For more recipes, details or to sign up for Winter Sun Farms CSA, visit wintersunfarmsnc.com.
— Michael Franco is an Asheville-based writer.