Come with us to Barb and David Perkins’ Pesto Fest at Vermont Valley Community Farm, about 30 miles west of Madison near Blue Mounds. It’s a day of birdsong and beauty, community and camaraderie. Members connect with their farmers and the land that feeds them, and get filled up with goodness — the perfect antidote to the darkness and hate that saturated the news cycle that same week.
Follow along as their CSA members pick basil — all they want! — and then hang out together as they strip the leaves and create pesto at work tables set up in the CSA packing shed.
Barb and David are CSA pioneers in Wisconsin. Theirs is one of the state’s oldest CSA farms, founded in 1994. They bought their farm and left their east Madison neighborhood when they were both 37, starting with 50 members their first year.
Today, they pack about 900 boxes a week and are growing about 35 acres of vegetables. In total, they work about 100 acres of owned and rented land. What isn’t planted in produce is in rotation in cover crops and hay. They’ve been certified organic since early on. And they’ve been doing this for so long, many of their members are second generation.
This year, they grew four types of basil — the traditional green basil, Genovese, and Red Rubin, Lemon and Lime Basil. It’s planted in two, 300-feet rows just for this u-pick.
The basic ingredients of pesto are basil, nuts, cheese, olive oil or butter, garlic, and salt and pepper. Pine nuts are the traditional nut but you can use walnuts in their stead. Barb likes pesto made with sunflower seeds. She’s also made it with cashews and almonds. As for the cheese, it’s usually Parmesan, but Barb says goat cheese works beautifully, too. Before members go home, they leave a dollop of pesto for their farmers, so over the past two decades, Barb and David have enjoyed a lot of different concoctions.
Pesto Fest is one of four annual farm events for Vermont Valley CSA members. Barb and David host a corn boil and potluck — members pick the corn and are encouraged to eat an ear raw in the field (so good!) — tomato u-picks, and finally, a pumpkin pick. Everything is free and included with CSA membership.
Vermont Valley can add new members at any time during the growing season. Shares are pro-rated to make up for the missed weeks. For families who split a share, not to worry, everyone is invited out to the farm for events and festivals. (See their CSA sign-up information, here. )
Meet Your Veggies: Basil
Basil, an annual herb in northern gardens, adds delicate flavor and aroma to many cultural dishes of Greece, Italy, and the Near East, as well as adapting itself well to varied dishes created in imaginative kitchens.
Basil is believed to have originated in India. There it was viewed as a holy plant and was grown around shrines and temples, infusing the air with its fragrance.
Basil, like tomatoes, thrives in the heat of summer. A spell of hot, humid weather will provide an abundance of basil–that’s the perfect time to dry it or make tons of pesto to freeze for brightening up a bleak winter menu.
- Top slices of tomato with chopped fresh basil leaves, olive oil, and a little salt and pepper.
- Layer basil leaves in a sandwich with slices of garlic and tomatoes, and cheese if you wish.
- Basil is famous in salad dressings (vinaigrettes), tomato sauces, and as the main ingredient in pesto, but don’t forget to throw it into egg or cheese dishes, sautés, stir-fries, pureed vegetable soups, dips and sauces. Experiment with its flavor and you’ll find out where you like to use it.
- Fresh basil deteriorates quickly. Use it as soon as possible.
- For short-term storage, wrap in a lightly damp towel and refrigerate. Do not wash prior to refrigeration.
- Freeze fresh leaves in a plastic zip-lock bag. Do not thaw before use.
- Pesto freezes very well i an airtight container. Some peple freeze it in an ice cube tray. When well frozen, pop out pesto cubes. Bag them in a zip-lock bag and freeze. Take out as many cubes as you need at a time.
~ excerpted from “Asparagus to Zucchini,” a seasonal cookbook by FairShare CSA Coalition
Visit Vermont Valley’s recipe collection!
The following recipes are from Edible Madison:
Basil Pesto (vegan)
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic (or more, to taste)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts (can substitute walnuts)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
In the bowl of a food processor, mix the garlic and salt. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add the basil and pine nuts and process until a thick paste forms. With the motor running, drizzle the olive oil through the feed tube. Work quickly, as the heat of the food processor warm the mixture, possibly altering its flavor. Taste and adjust seasonings. Makes about 2/3 cup.
~ from “Very Vegetarian” by Jannequin Bennett
Credits: Production by Molly Stentz and Julie Garrett, theme music performed by Cathryn Herlihey, logo by Katie Hess, reporting and photos by Julie Garrett