Phillips Farms at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket - Early MayPhillips Farms has always been one of my favorite stops at the Boro Hall greenmarket. Their produce is high-quality, and I love to watch the selection shift and expand over the course of the season, from the potatoes & onions saved from last fall, to the first asparagus, the first May strawberries, peas in June, and on and on to tomatoes and corn and the final harvests of the fall. At summer’s peak the tables in the Phillips booth will boast every bit as much variety as a supermarket produce section, but the flavor and freshness that comes direct from the farm is something the supermarket can’t come close to.

In April and through most of May the produce is relegated to a single table at the edge of the Phillips booth, crowded out by flats of herb seedlings and hanging baskets of flowers. Beginning in late April though, I was pleased and surprised to see bins of hearty-looking spinach. I couldn’t figure out how so much spinach could appear so soon after the last frosts. IWintered Over Spinach from Phillips Farms at the Brooklyn Greenmarket supposed it was grown in a greenhouse, but its rich dark-green color and robust flavor could only have come from living in soil and sunshine. While visiting the Phillips booth at Grand Army Plaza I asked Marc Phillips, the farm’s proprietor. He explained to me that the plants had been ‘wintered over’ — that is, they were planted in the fall, took root before the first frosts, and then were covered over with tarps against the cold of winter. In spring, with the return of warm weather, the tarps were removed and the plants began again to grow. Soon they were big enough to yield the delicious and hearty leaves I Fresh Asparagus from the Phillips Farms Boothgreedily stuffed into a shopping bag, to be turned into quiches, phyllo-wrapped feta pies, ricotta spread, and even taco filling.

I learned that the spinach I was buying in mid and late May was nearly the last of the crop. As soon as summer heats up the air, the plants will “bolt” – that is, they’ll shoot up and flower, their energyFresh Garlic at the Brooklyn Boro Hall Farmers Market directed away from producing leaves, their flavor altered. Marc notes that the wintered-over spinach is sometimes not as pretty as the fall crop, and that contending with the cold gives it blemishes that might cause a supermarket wholesaler to pass it by. But these hearty plants also develop a flavor that’s richer and deeper by far than supermarket spinach, richer even than the crop of spinach Phillips Farms will grow in the fall.

Alongside the spinach I found some other interesting early spring edibles. Fresh garlic was a novelty for me – the long, leek-like stalks were young garlic plants that had yet to develop their familiar bulbs. Their garlic flavor was lighter, with a spring-like, leek-like freshness. There were radishes, asparagus of course, and a big cooler chest full of mesclun, though I opted for Wintered Over Spinach and last fall's potatoes from Phillips Farms the spicy Arugula. Also on display were baby onion tops and baby leek tops. I didn’t try these, but no doubt they’d be delicious in a salad, or chopped up like chives in a frittata.

And of course this was all only the very beginning of a summerfull of produce. Next up: the arrival of the first strawberries. Each weekend since Mother’s Day I’d asked about – and been promised – their appearance. Finally at last week’s market I heard the long-awaited news: the strawberries were ready! There had been a tablefull of them that morning! And I’d arrived too late in the day, and they’d all sold out! D’oh!