Over Winter? Well, It’s What’s in Season Chicago

April 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm

You hear more than a bit of whining from those trying to produce seasonal menus that by March or so, they’re thoroughly finished with a winter’s larder full of root veg. Good thing Spring’s a-comin’, and what does Spring to the Chicago area seasonal eater? Root veg. We get root vegetables because a lot of them are cold hearty and can survive early plantings in area hoop houses. Yet, there’s another kind of root vegetable around in Spring, one just a bit different than the root vegetables we ate all winter. Beetnik Jeannie Boutelle showed us the fantastic carrots (pictured above) she saw at Green City Market in April, over-wintered carrots she saw at Green City Market.

Overwintering vegetable essentially means leaving them in the ground after it gets cold. Yes, even in snowy fields, abet some overwintered items need to a certain amount of protection from that cold. Items that can be overwintered included brussels sprouts, leeks, garlic, beets, sunchokes, and especially carrots and parsnips. These last two, which look more alike than they really are in the plant family, really excel in frosty soil. You may hear some people tell you to look for skinny carrots (or skinny parsnips), and some thick carrot tubes are present with way too much woody inside. Yet, if they’re overwintered carrots or overwintered parsnips, do not be afraid of the size. They plants build big, sugar cell layers in that cold (to stay warm and store energy). These initial roots of the season are some of the best roots you will have all year.

Not a lot of area farmers overwinter vegetables, and the ones that do, may already be out of their stocks, but do look for them when you shop for local food. Beyond the overwintered and hoop-house root vegetables, the markets are mostly green this time of year.  Here’s our list of likely finds in markets around the Chicago area right about now–do tell us what other items you are seeing in the comments.

  • Sorrel has a short season, about now.  If you’ve never tried you’ll be amazed how much puckery flavor can come from a leaf.  Beetniks Mo Tuffy and Vicki Nowicki have ideas on what to do with sorrel.
  • Spring onions, which we mean leeks, scallions, chives, green onions; cooking with these sharp, bright ingredients lends Spring its unique flavor.
  • Green garlic, we love how you can use this almost like an herb.  Like, as long as you don’t have a date, how ’bout a green garlic pesto.
  • Salad greens, you can use lettuces, watercress, rocket, or as the Chicago Tribune advises, kale in various seasonal salads.
  • Asian greens, your 40 sizes of bok choy for instance, tend to do very well in cool weather, so it’s stir fry season around a lot of CSA houses.
  • Radishes grow so quickly, farmer’s can get them jn and out of their fields pretty quickly.
  • Asparagus, if the crop started this week, it would be early, but we’re into like our fourth week of local asparagus
  • Herbs, early Spring tends to bring a few herbs not seen the rest of the year.  For instance, we’ve seen lovage around a lot.  Remember a little of this celery-ish flavored herb goes a long way.  Another not so common herb we saw in the markets recently, was savory, “the bean herb”, so you know what to do with that one.
  • Roots, turnips, beets, carrots, parsnips; may or may not be overwintered.
  • Storage crops, we saw old celery root priced to move; there’s still plenty of apples and potatoes