A MIDWINTER DAYDREAM: A farmer’s ecstatic ode to spring greens
Illustrtions by Felicia Weston
In the depths of the icy armpit of winter, staring down the barrel of another month of monochromatic tundra, my spirits had plummeted. Winter was trying to kill me. I fetched another hearty helping of cheesy mashed potatoes, threw a log on the fire and plopped down on the couch. dozing off in a starchy haze, my thoughts soon slipped to warmer weather. The snow had melted, and suddenly it was spring in my greenhouse. I blinked hard against the brilliant colors, my mouth slipping into uncontrollable salivation.
“Greeeeeeeeeeens!” I roared. But where to start?
Deep green mispoona, tender tatsoi, fiery red giant mustards and emerald green chickweed exploding out of every bare patch of soil left this squash-stuffed gal nearly paralyzed with titillation. The sweltering heat and humidity didn’t hurt either. I bent and broke off a finely dissected ruby streaks mustard. As I chomped down, the pungent wasabi poured through my sinuses.
“Yessss!” I screamed to the bok choy.
The ecstasy of seasonal eating peaks in moments like these. Every cell in my body moaned with deep, demanding hunger. I threw off my hat and outer coat, sloughing off layers of clothing in ecstatic haste as the sun seared through the plastic of the greenhouse. Plants pulled upward, straining against gravity, cells multiplying and unfurling. Across kingdoms our bodies had built vitamin D from the sunshine, stretching awake once more.
I dropped to my knees and crawled like a goat through the rows, gobbling bite after bite of fresh new leaves. The diversity was astounding—buttery lettuces; salty orach; bitter endives; spicy mustards; pungent, oniony chives; and supple, tender green garlic. I greeted each one like a long-lost friend.
“Lovage! how I’ve missed you! Like soup in a leaf you are, ol’ Chap!”
“Chervil! You licorice rascal! Masquerading as parsley, you stinker!”
“Ooh! Parsley! Yesssssssss!”
One by One, they scoured my starchdrenched insides. The more I ate, the more my body demanded. It was almost hard to believe they were real, and even harder to believe I had lived without them all winter.
A fistful of arugula in one hand and mizuna in the other, I glanced back at the carnage I’d left behind. Even the hungriest deer couldn’t touch what I’d just accomplished.
My stomach churned like a rumen as I munched the last mouthful.
Far off at first, a clanking, screeching sound roared closer. My eyes shot open as the snowplow blazed past my house. My scarf was choking me. I looked out the window to see flakes of snow just starting to fall again.
“Ugh,” I sighed, the lemony taste of sorrel still lingering on my tongue. Winter isn’t trying to kill me, it’s filling the mountain lakes and rivers with snow to provide irrigation water for our gardens next summer. It’s breaking insect and disease cycles and giving me a much-needed rest. I grumbled a “thank you” to the clouds and the cold and threw another log on the fire.
CASEY’S FAVORITE SPRING GREENS: AN ABRIDGED LIST
Arugula—spicy and nutty, this fastgrowing green has just the right amount of bitterness.
Chervil—delicate, anise-like flavor. Extremely winter hardy and excellent in salad mixes.
Chives—wonderful snipped fresh onto potatoes or egg salad. Chive flowers have superb, delicate flavor. I love to tempura batter them.
Cilantro—this herb is easiest to grow fall through spring (unfortunately). It’s wonderful in Thai and Mexican dishes.
Dandelion—ubiquitous and free, dandelion greens are bitter but make a great tea. The flowers make good ale.
Cress—my favorite is Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled, a frank Morton variety with a wonderful herbal-spice flavor and super dainty leaves.
Garlic Chives—chives and garlic in one? Brilliant!
Lovage—this tough-as-nails alternative to celery is perennial and one of the first things to come up in spring. Its strong celery flavor works well in soups and stir-fries. dry in season to enjoy it year-round.
Kale—spring boasts exceptionally sweet and tender kale leaves on overwintered plants, as well as broccoli-like florets and yummy edible flowers.
Mâche—if a peanut and a green had a baby, mâche would be it. This green is super winter-hardy and nutty as all getout.
Mispoona—a superb cross between tatsoi and mizuna, mispoona has thick, mild, sweet leaves. it’s excellent raw and cooked.
Mustard Greens—spicy like wasabi, mustard greens make an excellent addition to salad mixes, especially when paired with a sweet dressing. They also work well as a sushi wrap.
Sorrel—one of the earliest perennials to green up in spring, sorrel is a lemony addition to salads and cocktails and a superb ingredient in potato-leek soup.