Mesclun is a Feast for the Eyes and Tongue
Green leaves make for a quick harvest
Leaves. Just about the only thing you can sow in the vegetable garden now and be sure of getting a harvest this year.
Start a bed of greens in early August and you’ll be cropping by the end of the month through to the fall.
Greens, these days, is somewhat of a misnomer. The gourmet salad, or mesclun, is a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds, combining light and dark greens mixed with reds and purples.
Many seedhouses offer several mesclun mixes for different tastes and seasons.
Mid-summer blends, for instance, use plants which can tolerate the extreme heat we usually get at this time of year. In any case, it’s better to select a shaded location as most greens prefer cooler conditions.
Some mixes emphasize milder or stronger-tasting blends, depending on how much edge is wanted with the vinaigrette.
If you prefer to blend your own, here’s a late-season mesclun suggested in The Harrowsmith Salad Garden by Turid Forsyth and Merilyn Simonds Mohr (Camden House, 1992):
Mustard ‘Green in Snow,’ mustard spinach ‘Mizuna,’ garden cress, lettuce ‘Little Gem,’ ‘Winter Density,’ Rossa di Trento, rape-salad, onions (bunching), radish ‘Sparkler,’ winter chervil, chicory ‘Castel Franco di Variegata’.
Forsyth and Simonds Mohr recommend floral garnishes the flowers of garlic chives, nasturtium, pansy, anise-hyssop, chrysanthemum, fennel or marigold are suitable.
Richters, the herb specialists in Goodwood, north of Toronto (905-640-6677 or www.richters.com), list three mesclun blends in their catalogue.
Richters’ special blend consists of Kagraner lettuce, red leaf lettuce, rocket (arugula), radicchio, corn salad (mache), borage, mizuna, mustard spinach, chevil and curled cress.
Any leftover lettuce seed can go into the mix, but the loose leafed varieties are the most suitable to the cut-and-come-again cropping technique used in the mesclun bed.
To get the right look, include at least one lettuce with red leaves, and another with light green frilly leaves.
Arugula is a must in my book, as I find its peppery taste sets off all the other greens. Let a couple pf plants go to seed each year to ensure next season’s supply. I do the same with coriander (cilantro) and parsley.
Endive and chicory are also good candidates as they are tolerant of cold temperatures in late September and October. They do tend to be bitter, but blanching by inverting a box over the bed will sweeten the taste.
A spring mesclun would include corn salad, also known as lamb’s lettuce, spinch, mizuna and pak choy.
An early summer version gets some seeds of beet greens and bronze fennel thrown in, as well as herbs like borage and sweet basil.
Purslane, pigweed and dandelion, are plants that we discard as weeds; similar cultivated versions are considered delicious elsewhere.
So make some space clear gone-to-seed spinach or spent peas from a patch of ground and work some fresh compost into the soil.
Or seed a large pot, at least a foot in diameter. Keep it well watered and in full sun. The result will be both decorative and nutritious.