by Andy Johnston, Produce Manager
Fall is one of my favorite seasons of the year. Besides the cooler temperatures and fall colors, the flavors on our household menu also tend to change. Soups, stews, and casseroles take the place of BLTs and corn on the cob. Pie and apple crisp show up instead of melons and berries for dessert. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy summer and its bounties, but there’s something about the nostalgia associated with fall—the smell of a fire burning in the woodstove or a pie coming out of the oven—that brings back fond memories of childhood. Not to mention, it’s easier to relax in the evenings with no grass to cut and everything in the garden having already been put up. Everything seems to slow down a bit as Mother Nature prepares life for winter.
“Winter, schminter!” That’s what those hearty winter greens are saying! Wisconsin produces some of the finest quality winter greens you can find. In the fall, cold nights and cool days yield the sweet leaves of hearty winter greens. You can acquire the best fresh winter greens at local farmers’ markets as well as at the Co-op. We’ll be featuring exceptional, local winter greens into November!
The most common hearty winter greens are members of the cabbage family: kale and collards. Classified as a Brassica, these variations of cabbage thrive in cool conditions. Non-leafy Brassicas, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, do extremely well at this time of the year as well. Many of these crops can withstand temperatures as low as 15ºF!
Spinach and chard are some of the most tender of the winter greens. Although not as cold-resistant as the cabbages, greens, when harvested young, can be some of the most tender and sweet. With a cold frame, you can grow spinach through the winter!
Some mustards also do well in the chilly months. Mizuna and Tah Tsai both produce a bit of a spicy mustard- tasting green. The delicate stems and leaves of baby Tah Tsai and Mizuna are often found in mesculin and sauté mixes.
Many herbs and lettuces produce excellent quality product in the fall months as well. The tenderest radishes are always from cool weather production. All of these crops are easy to grow. A fertile soil enriched with some compost, a little water and sunshine and you’re good to grow!
Green, leafy vegetables—you know they’re good for you, they’re green! Many people classify kale as a “superfood,” and I don’t think you can argue against it. Kale, as well as many of the hearty winter greens, provides more nutritional value for less calories than most other foods. Winter greens are an excellent source of fiber, folic acid, vitamin A-rich beta-carotene, calcium, antioxidants, and many more vitamins and minerals. From just one cup of steamed kale, you get 192% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, and 88% of your vitamin C. Hearty winter greens also help keep your cholesterol levels low. Not only do they provide cholesterol-lowering fiber, they do not provide you with those nasty saturated fats. By eating hearty winter greens, you reduce your risk of many different cancers, stroke and heart attack while building up your immune system to fight off those winter colds and flus. Not to mention with all that vitamin C, there’s no threat of scurvy during those short winter days!
Have you ever noticed your appetite increases during the winter months? Contrary to popular belief, this is not a product of the “winter blues.” Your body needs the calories to stay warm. Along with storage crops and savory herbs, which you can grow as well, hearty winter greens contribute to some of the best soups and stews. I’m a gardener, and I don’t think there’s anything as satisfying as warming up in the middle of winter with food from your own garden. Odds are, you’re not allergic to any of the hearty winter greens either. Most people aren’t. Now you can enjoy all these tasty greens, and no excuses!
So, you know they’re good for you, you can grow them yourself, or you can help support a local farm. Hearty winter greens, along with storage crops, help local farmers extend their ability to sell product for a longer period of time. Local Wisconsin farmers can sometimes have products available to retailers year-round. Diversified crops and efficient use of space help farmers make enough money to survive. You’re purchasing the highest quality products at a competitive price, and you’re keeping your money in the local economy. The environmental impacts of purchasing locally are significantly less than purchasing product from two thousand miles away. The agricultural sector of Wisconsin’s economy grows smaller each year. There is a great opportunity in the hearty winter greens to contribute to the well-being of farms, farmers, the earth, and you!
So there you have it, almost every reason you need to start eating the hearty winter greens. What’s that? You always see them in the produce department, but you just don’t know what to do with them? Stop in to our Deli. They offer several salads, hot case items, and soups, all with hearty winter greens. They’re even willing to print you up the recipe! Make yourself up a salad with a mix of all the winter greens when they’re young: a raspberry vinaigrette compliments the spicy greens perfectly. Having friends over for the game on Sunday? You can still have your brats! Get creative and try a variation on some down home Southern cuisine. Instead of a smoked ham hock, simmer your collards with some good local brats and serve with black-eyed peas and hot sauce. There are so many ways to use the greens; it’s not hard to find a use for them.
Stay warm and healthy, eat locally, and enjoy hearty winter greens. You’ll thank yourself!