Harvesting of summer crops in a garden usually takes place before the first frost. But there are certain vegetables that will not suffer if left in the ground after cold weather arrives. In fact, there are some crops that taste better after a frost.
In areas with a relatively short growing season, it can feel as though we are in a race against time. But it is good to know that frost can actually be a good thing for certain plants, and improve the quality and flavour of certain plants included in our home-grown diets.
Knowing which plants it is beneficial to leave in the ground a little longer can be helpful. It lets us know which jobs we need to prioritise, and which we can leave for a short while at this time of year. It can also help us make sure that we harvest our crops when they really are tasting at their best.
Why There Are Certain Crops That Taste Better After a Frost
The reason that there are certain crops that taste better after a frost is down to certain compositional changes that occur in plants. When temperatures drop below freezing, frost triggers certain plants to produce more sugar. The increased sugar levels will, of course, make plants taste sweeter. And that can mean that they taste better to us once this process has taken place.
As you are likely already aware, plants take in water and carbon dioxide. Using sunlight, they convert these into starch. This is stored within the plant and provides its energy. When winter approaches, this starch is converted into sugar by enzymes within the plant. This is part of the process plants use to protect themselves during the winter cold. The higher sugar levels protect the plants because they can ‘stay warm’ by metabolising them. The increased sugars also decrease the formation of ice in plant cells, and can protect cell membranes from freezing.
So what is a natural plant process also helps us, by giving us plants that are more appealing for us to eat.
Which Are the Crops That Taste Better After a Frost?
Some of the crops that taste better after a frost are root vegetables. And it is with these root vegetables that the difference in flavour after a few frosts can be most pronounced.
Parsnips are definitely one of the crops with which the most difference can be detected. These root vegetables really are a whole lot sweeter and more delicious when they are eaten in mid-winter. This is one of the reasons why this vegetable is such a popular choice around the Christmas season. You can really bring out and enhance the sweet flavour of these roots if you roast them in your oven with a drizzle of honey and olive oil.
Like parsnips, carrots also taste much sweeter after they have been exposed to frosts. This is another crop common enjoyed over the festive season, and again, is great when roasted with a little honey to bring out their natural sweetness a little more. Carrots are also great in baked goods. If you are making something like a carrot cake, for example, the increased plant sugars after the frosts can be beneficial. Since lower amounts of sugar or other sweeteners will be needed in the recipe.
Beetroots are loved by some, and disliked by others. Their usual flavour can somewhat divide opinion. Some love the earthy flavours, while others are not so keen. After a few frosts, however, beetroots that have been sweetened may convert even the most reluctant. Especially if the beetroots are roasted to bring out their natural sweetness. Again, beetroots can work well in baked goods – especially in their slightly sweeter form after the first frosts.
Other root vegetables are also crops that taste better after a frost. Celeriac, salsify and root parsley are just a few more examples.
Plenty of members of the brassica plant family (cabbage family) are also crops that taste better after a frost. Brussels sprouts are one of the best known examples, commonly enjoyed around Christmas when they have experienced a good few frosts and developed a somewhat sweeter flavour. Many people just boil or steam their sprouts. But one hint is to roast them, as this method of cooking, again, will really bring out their sweetness and begin to caramelise the plant sugars. Even the most determined of haters may be converted when served sprouts in this way.
All kale and winter cabbages will also taste better after frosts. Their leaves are not only somewhat sweeter but can also be a little more tender after they have been exposed to temperatures a little below freezing.
Brassicas have long been considered a staple of the winter diet, and with good reason. Many of the other members of this plant family will also improve in flavour because of the cold. Turnips and swedes are also members of the brassica family, and these too will be at their best when left in the ground to experience a few frosts. Not only their roots but also their leaves can be eaten. And the leaves too are better once touched by the cold.
Other Leafy Crops
It is not only brassicas but also certain other leafy crops that can be improved by frost exposure. One example of the pretty hardy winter crops that will taste better after a frost or two is Swiss chard. This crop can survive temperatures down to around minus 9 degrees C. without any problems. And its flavour and texture can be improved after the onset of the cold weather.
Finally, we’ll make mention of one final plant that can also be left out after the first frosts: leeks. This member of the allium (onion) plant family is another example of crops that taste better after a frost. As long as the ground in your garden does not freeze solid, leeks can simply be left in the soil and harvested over the whole of the winter. You can simply pull leeks as and when they are required over the coldest months.
In winter, an outside garden may not be as full and diverse as it was over the summer months. (Though a polytunnel can still be in full swing.) But no matter where you are growing, it is usually possible to grow at least some of the above, and enjoy their improved flavour after the first frosts.
Do you enjoy the flavour of your vegetables better after they have been touched by frost? How do you like to bring out their natural sweetness? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.