6 June 2013

The Very First Salad

...of the gardening season, that is.

a very simple recipe:

a mix of very young greens from the garden
a handful of chive flower buds (optional)
walnut oil

Fefe said, "This is the kind of salad you could eat with your fingers if it wasn't so cold out."  In fact, it's the kind of salad you probably should eat with your fingers.  Get up close and personal with your food.

Fill your favourite salad bowl with the very first spring greens from your garden. (We have a mix of mizuna, spinach, arugula, grand rapids lettuce, and some rogue tatsoi).  Garnish with chive flower buds.  Drizzle with walnut oil.  Sprinkle with salt.  Enjoy.

If you don't use pesticides, don't let your dogs pee on your garden, and avoid mowing your lawn just prior to picking salad greens, then you will not need to wash them.  Washing greens this young will only bruise them anyway.  If, however, you are a germophobe then (a) feel free to ignore the advice and (b) don't accept a dinner invitation at ours.

Greens this young have a very delicate flavour, so respect that... don't lose them in a complex dressing.  

If you've never eaten a raw chive flower bud, be aware that they pack a bit of a punch.


This week at the local grocery store, a head of romaine lettuce costs about $3.50.  This romaine lettuce is, well, unappealing:  browned on the leaf edges, a bit on the limp side and trimmed excessively by the produce staff to make it presentable.  I forgot to look at the origin (since I wasn't buying it, after all), but it wouldn't surprise me if that head of lettuce had travelled across the continent to get here.  All in all, it would make for a depressing salad.

But that's what makes this time of year so fantastic.  We get the satisfaction of dodging the miserable mass market salad.    We get to feel superior and self-congratulatory as we munch on our own, home-grown greens.

We are early sowers of lettuce (but lazy-early, we aren't growing year-round under a hot box... yet... if you are using a hot box, take this opportunity to feel a wee bit superior yourself).  Every spring it feels like we wait FOREVER for the ground to be workable enough for the first cold-tolerant seeds to be put in.  And then Fefe is out every day, bundled up in wool layers, scouring the ground with her eyes, anxious to see signs of germination... it's usually when she's finally given up and re-seeded (not that she lacks patience or anything, ahem), that things finally start to go.

Plucking a bit of self-seeded tatsoi from the midst of the over-crowded grand rapids leaf lettuce (a wee bit of arugula in the foreground).  Note the arm warmers.  We may be gardening, but we are still cold.

It's possible our impatience can be accounted for by being transplanted mainlanders.  We grew up with spring happening with the calendar: in March.  Not here.  Spring is fleeting in Newfoundland: snow tends to keep falling through April (sometimes into May) and it stays cold for a long while.  The best way I've found to recognize spring here is when the foggy days start to outnumber the frozen ones and the wind, which is never gentle sticking out here in the Atlantic ocean, picks up enough to rob the air from your lungs every time you open your mouth.  After a couple of weeks the wind settles a wee bit, or at least it become less constant (or maybe we just get used to it?) and we hit our last frost date in June.  By the last frost this year, we were picking our first salad.  

This garden-eagerness of ours is often noted by neighbours and passer-bys when our gardening efforts begin in earnest.  There is no end of helpful and well-meant advice that it is much too soon to put in this or that seed.  And some years they're right.  But we take our chances because what's the worst that can happen?  Nothing.  And in that case we cut our losses and simply seed again. 

Due to the helpful nature of a particular stray neighbourhood child, and maybe the wind, the mizuna and spinach are very friendly with each other this year.

At any rate, as a result of Fefe's somewhat exuberant planting of leafy greens, thinning is generally necessary... something of a desperate necessity, actually.  There is no point, however, in thinning too early; why waste all that potential food by pulling it up before it's worth eating?  So the very first salad of the year is when the greens are just smaller than the "baby" greens you can buy at the supermarket and crowded in so tight you are starting to worry about it.

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