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Mesclun - Salads Of The Season - With A Mediterranean Spin
And Some Recipes Too!

 

You probably think the term "Mesclun" is a bit chefy, perhaps even a bit posh, , but this is not so, read on. "Mesclun" is a French word that roughly translates as "mixture". So if you're not into impressing your friends with your chic cuisine, just refer to it as mixed salad leaves.

 

Now, "Mesclun" can consist of virtually any edible leaf from around the world. But firstly, some people's definition of edible can vary enormously. And obviously if I included every single example known to man, this article would become way too long, and rather tedious to read. So I'll try not to get too carried away, but still allow you a little scope to get a bit adventurous, and have fun too! Both in the eating and in the growing.


Some seed companies do offer packets of mixed salad leaves, and some even describe them as "Mesclun". But the price you have to pay for their choice of varieties, is a bit over the top. What I would do, at least to start with, is to work out the kind of leaves you prefer. For example, do you prefer the taste of milder lettuces and Spinach, or do you like (or would you fancy trying) something with a little more zing, such as Rocket or Mizuna (Japanese Mustard Greens). If all these names are like a foreign language to you, don't despair. Go to your local supermarket, grab a few bags of different types of salad leaves take them home and try them! Of course none of these will taste as good as the ones you can grow yourself, however it will give you some idea of what you like.

 

Personally, I love all the myriad textures and colours of the lettuce varieties now available. Such as, Oakleaf (both red and green), Frissee, Red Salad Bowl, Lollo Rosso, stop me before I get carried away! To these beautiful lettuces, I add Mizuna (Japanese Mustard Greens) French Sorrel, Flat Leafed Parsley, young Bronze Fennel, Leaf Celery, Purple and Italian Basil and finally, a few baby Spinach leaves! My boss, on the other hand, has a passion for Rocket and Chicory, which I find a little bitter. So I have to make sure and grow plenty of those for her!

 

Now the seeds for all these different varieties can be sown in two different ways in your Vegetable plot. You can either sow very small rows of each, or as I prefer to do, mix 'em all up in one large packet and sow a longer row. Whichever method you choose, I recommend you sow in a succession of about once every two weeks, during spring and summer. This fortnightly sowing allows for a continuity of production.

 

Whilst most of the crops I have mentioned can most assuredly be grown on a cut and come again basis, with several weeks between sowings. Some crops like Rocket and Sorrel, do tend to go to seed rather faster than these others. So all in all, I think the best plan for most of you, providing you have got the space, is to go for the fortnightly sowings, especially if this is your first foray into the trendy salad field!

 

Now the more knowledgeable amongst you, will probably be saying to yourself, that so far this article seems to be focused on spring and summer crops. She said it was "Salads of the Season". So where's the autumn and winter stuff! Fear not - I was just coming to that bit. The autumn and winter crops need to be tackled in a slightly different way. For instance, growing Basil and Spinach is a bit of a waste of time at this time of the year. Even in the greenhouse, this is because the light levels are much lower in this part of the world in the winter. But don't worry, there are still loads of wonderful herb and leaf crops you can grow in a poly tunnel, cloche, unheated greenhouse, or even in the open ground.

 

You may need to use a little protection if the weather gets really cold. Or you can even grow your "Mesclun" in a seed tray on your windowsill! You will find that salad crops sown at this time of the year, will be a lot slower to germinate, than in the warmer months. So I'd recommend the cut and come again method. Harvesting by either picking individual leaves, or using scissors. The timing of these sowings will vary somewhat depending on what part of the country you live in.

 

Good winter favourites are Chicory (Salad Bowl), Red Oakleaf Lettuce, Mizuna and Flat Leafed Parsley. The latter needs to be either, sown earlier in the season and transplanted into a row outside, or kept in a pot in the greenhouse or your kitchen. This is because Parsley is a bit of a pain to germinate (unless your seed is really fresh) at the best of times. But you don't have to stick to my suggestions. Be adventurous; try a few experiments of your own! And let me know your results.

 

If you have got any other queries or comments e-mail me at helenwand@gardenadvice.co.uk. All of the team here at GardenAdvice.co.uk love to get feed back!

 

And now for those recipes I promised!


Recipes

Spring and Summer Mesclun
First harvest your leaves nice and young and wash carefully in plain water. If the leaves seem a bit buggy, just add a little vinegar to your water, and leave to work for a few minutes. Next dry your leaves very well, using a salad spinner. This works much better than drying with a tea towel, as the leaves need to be very dry so that the dressing isn't diluted.


For the dressing you will need: -
* Half the juice of a lemon (or the equivalent amount of your favourite wine vinegar, such as raspberry)
* 1 teaspoon dry English mustard powder.
* A pinch of salt freshly ground black pepper to taste (I like loads)
* 3 tablespoons of your favourite good quality olive oil, or if you prefer a milder taste use almond or walnut oil.


Mix all the ingredients together, until thoroughly blended. A good way to achieve this in by using an old jam jar with the lid tight and shake well.Then dress your salad either by getting your fingers in there, as I do, or tossing using salad servers.

 

Autumn and Winter Mesclun
Later in the season, as the leaves mature a little, their flavour becomes stronger and less sweet. So your dressing needs to have a more robust flavour. You need a dressing with a little more Umph! Or as the chefy types describe it, 'with more complexity'.


Firstly, harvest whatever leaves you have available. Wash and dry them as before.

For the dressing you will need: -
* 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
* Pinch salt
* Fresh ground pepper to taste
* 1 or 2 finely chopped, or crushed, cloves of garlic
* 1 teaspoon each dried basil and marjoram (or if fresh is available,
* 1 tablespoon of each)
* 3 tablespoons of really good extra virgin olive oil.

 

Mix all the ingredients as before, but if using dried herbs, leave your dressing to marinade for a few minutes, before using.

 

Now just a final word.

Don't leave your seed buying and veg patch planning 'til the spring. Go through as many catalogues as you can get your paws on (including some from France and Italy if you can get them), and order lots of scrummy mesclun ingredients, while sitting by a roaring fire watching the horrid winter weather outside!

Great therapy for the winter blues!

 

See Also
Other links you may want to check out:
* One from Italy:
* www.italcont.com/ingegnoli/
* From the USA:
* www.johnnyseeds.com
* www.gardenbazaar.com
* and a virtual seed company www.virtualseeds.com




 

 

 

 

 

 

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