Cool Weather Greens
Planting cold tolerant vegetables in July or August will provide you with farm fresh nutrition for months to come.
Or, if you prefer to have a professional grow your vegetables, High Country Community Supported Agriculture is a model that brings multiple farmers and local eaters together once each month from November through April. For more information, e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For home gardeners, row cover fabric is a simple way to extend the growing season, protecting plants from frost. Row covers enhance plant growth by raising day temperatures around the plants and insulating plants at night by trapping heat around them.
Another home gardening option for season extension is the use of cold frames. A cold frame is a bottomless structure put over plants with glass or clear plastic on top. It can be opened during the day to allow ventilation.
The glass or clear plastic is placed facing south or southwest, so that it can let in and trap more heat from the sun. They protect plants from frost, but the temperatures need to be monitored in order to avoid overheating particularly on sunny days. For more information, check out:
Some of our local growers have recently built hoop houses to grow produce for you during winter months. A hoop house, or hi-tunnel, is a greenhouse frame covered with a layer of clear plastic.
The ground is tilled and smoothened, and then metal frames are anchored into the ground and covered with clear plastic. The clear plastic cover on the sides can be rolled up to enable excess heat to escape during the daytime and rolled down at night to trap heat, so that the environment around the plants is kept warmer.
Cold tolerant greens not only taste great, they work hard to keep you well. People who eat merely three to five cups each week have been found to have a lower incidence of a variety of cancers, including lung, colon, breast, ovarian and bladder. If you've ever been through or seen a loved one go through cancer treatment, you can say that a few cups of greens are definitely worth a pound of cure.
The greens that smell sulfur-like when you cook them are members of the Brassica family and include kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. They contain organosulfur compounds that lessen the occurrence of a wide variety of cancers, up to 44 percent.
These beneficial compounds work in the body several ways. They activate detoxifying enzymes in the liver to help neutralize carcinogenic substances, and even induce some cancer cells to commit suicide. Beneficial compounds signal our genes to increase production of enzymes involved in detoxification, the cleansing process where our bodies eliminate harmful compounds.
Greens contain beta-carotene and vitamin C, which are both antioxidants that protect cells from damage, reducing our chances of developing cataracts and lowering our risk of skin cancer. Vitamin C is vital for proper function of the immune system, which keeps us healthy.
Here are a couple of recipes to get you started with eating three to five cups each week:
The following dish is a wonderful way to cook winter squash and use widely available kale in the fall. Susan Boylan has brought this to potlucks I've attended and I convinced her to write it down for us all.
Susan's Winter Squash and Toscana Kale Casserole
I use organic kabocha sunshine squash; a dense and firm winter squash, but any similar winter squash will do. I also use organic Toscana kale; also known as Lacinato or Nero in Italy. It is the very dark green, long-leaf kale. Other types of kale will work.
This recipe provides for eight servings.
2-3 kabocha squash (about 4-5 lbs.)
1-1 1/2 lbs. toscana kale, washed with large center stem removed, sliced into thin strips.
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
2-3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
2-3 slices stale bread processed into crumbs (Ezekiel bread is a good choice for crumbs.)
1/2 - 2/3 cup grated hard Italian cheese (parmigiano, peccorino or asiago, optional for vegans, but really adds flavor)
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
With a very sharp knife, halve and seed the squash, then cut into quarters.
Place flesh side down on a cookie sheet that has been lined with unbleached parchment paper.
Pour about 1 cup water into each pan and roast the squash until a knife inserted in the flesh indicates the flesh is cooked - about 40 minutes.
Let cool about 20 minutes, or just until squash can be handled.
While squash is cooking/cooling, saute kale and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil, just until bright green (approx. 3 minutes.)
Peel the skin off the squash and cut into chunks.
Melt 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. olive oil. To this, add two cups chicken or vegetable broth.
Place squash in large bowl and add mixture of broth, butter and oil one cup at a time and mash until the consistency is smooth. Less or more broth, butter and oil may be added if needed.
Butter a large, covered casserole and add squash.
Layer a thin, even coat of crumbs onto the squash.
Layer the kale on top of the squash and then another layer of breadcrumbs.
Layer grated cheese over all.
You may add a few pats of butter or sprinkle of olive oil on top, or oil the cover of the casserole so the cheese will not stick.
Casserole may be refrigerated at this point for later use.
If refrigerated, remove from the cold about one hour before placing in oven.
Bake at 350/375 degrees until hot in the center.
Remove the cover and run under the broiler for just a few minutes for the cheese to thoroughly melt and brown very slightly, if desired.
Chard Cheese Bake
I used this recipe to introduce locally grown chard to elementary students in the county, and about 80 percent of them loved it!
1 pound Swiss chard, kale or spinach
Chop and saute in one tablespoon olive oil until wilted.
Then combine in a large bowl with the following:
1 cup low fat milk
1 cup shredded cheese of choice
1 cup cubed whole grain bread
1/2 cup green onions
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour above mixture into an oiled 2-quart baking dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until egg has set.
Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups and is the local food coordinator for Watauga County. Contact Margue at email@example.com or (828)264-3061.