Yes, I know the calendar says it’s still winter. But… the days are getting longer, temps are getting warmer, snow is melting, and shoots are coming up from the soil. I’ve heard Canada geese are arriving, as are robins and cardinals.
Although the first day of spring is still a few days away, I’m hungering for fresh local greens. Fortunately, I don’t have to look far. Juniper Hill Farm at our Saranac Lake Winter Farmers’ Market offers lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard grown in their greenhouse.
Traditionally, winter salads have consisted of root veggies like carrots and hardy cabbage, kraut and pickles. About 50 years ago, greens shipped from California became widely available in supermarkets. But this year, thanks to the Winter Farmers Market and Juniper Hill’s greenhouses, we’ve been able to enjoy fresh local organic lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard all winter long.
Greens have been traditional fare in the Mediterranean region since prehistoric times. Lettuce and spinach were common in ancient Babylon, Persia and Egypt. Beet greens are native to the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, from Northern Africa to southern Europe, and both Greeks and Romans were familiar with chard.
These leafy vegetables provided these ancient cultures — and offer to you and me — many nutritional benefits. They have few calories (lettuce has just 9 per cup; one cup of raw spinach has 7) and are excellent sources of important antioxidants as well as fiber. While the nutritional value varies — chard and beet greens are considered “super-foods” by some –most greens provide varying amounts of important vitamins and minerals, in particular potassium, calcium, iron, copper, vitamins A and C. Generally, the spine and ribs contain the most fiber, while vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the leaves. The darker the leaves, the higher the concentration of beta carotene (vitamin A). Many greens (like spinach and chard) are high in lutein, which helps prevent age-related macular degeneration and may impede the adhesion of cholesterol to blood vessel walls, guarding cardiovascular health…..