After the Thaw

Winter blankets take many shapes. There’s the warmth of our Pendleton wool, thrown over our legs and tucked under our feet, working just as hard as the woodstove to keep the heat in while we sleep. There’s the snow outside that comes and goes—covering the strawberry patch and the raspberry cane roots from December to March. There’s the extra fur the dog grows over his rump and between his paw pads, keeping him moving over ice and snow.

And over the garden, there’s a thin, sturdy layer of plastic—nothing expensive, nothing fancy—but enough to cover the crops so that in even the coldest months, they grow.

Not everyone, of course, can stand the chill. The basil and eggplants die off long before late October, when we cover the rows. The tomatoes get pulled out not long after while the green beans say their parting words, and the kitchen herbs move inside to sunny doorways and windowsills. Stacey Hedman

But the greens—the cabbage and kale and lettuce and spinach and Swiss chard and arugula—these thrive under their thin cover all winter long. We harvest the late summer plantings from Thanksgiving through March, and a new crop goes in toward the end of February. It’s hard to believe that under such a thin plastic blanket the seedlings still sprout. But they do, skyward and reaching, sure that spring is coming soon.

By early May, the beds are full again, a sea of bushy green rows.

I always over-plant—the promise of seed packets in February is too much to resist—and by mid-May, we have a full-blown greens crisis on our hands. Salads are mandatory at dinner and lunch, and on weekend mornings I sneak sautéed spinach and Swiss chard onto our plates alongside hot toast and fried eggs.

But my favorite way to eat the greens, hands down, is cooked with onions and garlic, layered with filo dough and cheese, and served as an entrée: spanakopita.

If you’ve never had spanakopita, it’s a Greek delight. It’s a savory spinach pie, or really more of a pastry, filled with eggs and ricotta and feta and greens. In the Greek countryside, rural women bulk up their spinach with leeks and Swiss chard, and in the cities fancy restaurants add kalamata olives or pine nuts.

I never do much to dress it up—with greens straight out of the garden, there’s no need for that. I just head outside in the late afternoon, down the deck stairs with colander and garden shears in hand, and start snipping my way through the spinach beds. When the colander’s full I make my way back in, and turn on the oven while I start chopping garlic and onions, chard, and spinach. By the time the sun goes down, the house fills up with the scent of pastry and herbs, rich cheese and greens, and something like spring wafts out of the oven.

It’s the sign of warmer weather I look forward to the most.


Elspeth Hay lives in Wellfleet

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