Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mache Notes

Corn salad, scilla, grape hyacinths, and one new cane of a heritage golden raspberry. Out in the alley at 8 a.m. on a drizzly March 8.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen corn salad (mache, lambs lettuce, lamb's tongue, field lettuce, feld salat, fetticus, nut salad) for sale on its own. It must be grown commercially somewhere in the U.S., since it shows up at times in the fancier restaurant salads, and mesclun mixes, but it hasn’t achieved the cachet of some other hardy salad greens such as arugula or mizuna. It is both more appreciated and more reviled in its native Europe, where several varieties are grown commercially, and where it spreads in weedy overabundance in some locales. It’s mostly used as a salad green, but it can be quickly stir-fried as well, or added to an omelet filling.

I first learned about it from Binda Colebrook, who makes its case in Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest, and I’ve rarely been without it since. It’s a great little green. It shrugs off both cold and heat. Overwintered plants are ready in abundance by early March. It self-seeds like crazy and forms dense stands that make an effective, weed- choking ground cover, but it’s easy to pull or hoe out if you’re tired of it. To my surprise, slugs don’t seem to seek it out--maybe that’s because they are too busy decimating my primroses.

But how does it taste, you may wonder? It’s not an assertive taste, so it’s tricky to describe. Imagine the slightly spongy texture of spinach, especially a tender, non-savoyed spinach, crossed with the taste of butter lettuce. It’s kind of like that. It’s a bit bland, but not flavorless. I took some to Deb Anderson-Frey’s last week, along with a few shallot greens and my first tiny thinnings of arugula. She mixed these with some lettuce and made a vinaigrette with a touch of anchovy. It was a simple, truly fabulous salad--it tasted as though spring was already in full session.

You can direct seed outside, for the next couple of months or in late summer. I don’t buy seeds anymore because it’s all over my garden, but Territorial sells them. One small warning: the low-to-the-grown rosettes of corn salad are effective dirt traps, so wash them extra carefully.


Megan said...

I'm just starting my third year of vegetable gardening. I have way more enthusiasm than skill, but I'm working on it. I'm so glad I found your blog! I'm really interested in eating locally and becoming a little more sustainable in my own backyard. I have a bunch of plans in the works, again with more enthusiasm than skill. hehe. I look forward to reading this and learning a thing or two.

Lanester said...

Hi Megan,

Thanks for checking in. I hope your plans bear lots of fruit--and greens--this year.

Are you going to grow some new stuff this year?