Winter Sweetness: Candy Greens

As our state becomes blanketed in snow, it is easy to think life on the farm grinds to a halt. Fortunately for us eaters, however, many farmers utilize hoop houses (aka high tunnels or passive solar greenhouses) to grow a variety of cold hardy winter greens: collards, kale, and spinach are commonly available year-round. If you’re normally not a fan of greens, and even if you are, I dare you to try the winter-kissed varieties and not fall in love.

Planted in late fall, winter greens begin to increase their natural sugar production as the temperatures plummet. This increased sugar is stored in the plant’s tissues as a mechanism to help them resist frost or freezing damage. It also makes the leaves taste much sweeter than their summer or spring-grown counterparts, making them appealing to a wider audience of veggie eaters. Winter greens are especially popular among kids.

Winter greens contain many vitamins (vitamins A, C, K) and minerals (calcium, iron), are rich in fiber and folic acid (key for women of childbearing age), and are high in antioxidants. As they are very tender, they can be eaten raw in salads (my favorite way to enjoy their sweetness), chopped and added to smoothies, mixed into eggs, or used as a last-minute addition to soups.

Looking for inspiration on adding these veggies to your weekly routine? Check out the recipes below:

Basic Greens Recipe:

Spinach Walnut Pesto

Makes 4-6 servings

Recipe provided by Michigan State University Chef Kurt Kwiatkowski + MIFMA

  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup parsley
  • 3 oz baby spinach
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 of jalapeno pepper (seeded and rough cut, more or less to taste)
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Parmesan or Asiago can be
  • substituted)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat, roast the walnuts for 5-6 minutes or until they become fragrant.
  2. Place the roasted nuts and garlic into the food processor, and blend for 1 minute.
  3. Add the parsley, spinach, cheese, and jalapeno into the food processor, and pulse until well mixed. Keep the processor on while pouring in the oil.
  4. Add lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.

Kelly Wilson is the former Director of Community Partners for Taste the Local Difference.

Find more great recipes here.