I took advantage of dreary weather earlier this week and sowed some seed.
Two varieties of spinach (‘Regiment’ and ‘Noble Giant’), cilantro, mache, and chervil.
It has taken forty years for me to love spinach. Before I learned to eat it, I could appreciate it for its gorgeous, saturated green color. Is anything in nature as satisfying to behold, especially in winter, as that lush, vehement emerald green? And while I love a good spinach salad with pecans, blue cheese, and pears or berries, I am looking forward to trying this baked spinach gratin recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
Mache (Valerianella locusta) is a newfound favorite. It has a distinctive, nutty flavor that gives depth to winter salads and other dishes. Absurdly easy to grow (it is often found as a field weed in Europe), it is hardy to USDA Zone 5, and has robust levels of vitamins B6, B9, C, and E.
I have never grown chervil before. It is frequently used in French cooking, apparently, and is sometimes described as a sophisticated parsley, to which it is related. I was alarmed to learn it is also related to hemlock, that extremely toxic herb that killed Socrates. Another good reason not to forage (not that this practice, to be honest, has ever appealed to me). I will trust the seed packet and think up some good egg dishes.
I am one of those people who believe one can never have too much cilantro (clearly, I don’t share the experience some people have of it tasting like soap). I adore Asian and Mexican food, in which it is commonly used. Cilantro (coriander, in seed form) is an herb that, once sown, one can always have provided the gardener allows one plant to go to seed. I gathered seed from a very healthy organic stand grown in a community garden I manage. I have perhaps a third of a quart jar of seed. Time to make some coriander chicken!
I’m putting a note on my calendar to sow more seed in two weeks’ time. I always forget to repeat-sow, meaning that when the weather gets truly cold I run out of my fresh veg. My goal this winter is to stay on top of the process.
Winter here is usually mild enough that I can grow these resilient plants with only mild protection. I use horticultural fleece when frost is expected, which has the added benefit of keeping any critters away. But until I can dig my fleece out, I am repurposing the kids’ old sandbox cover, made out of fiberglass window screening sewn around two lengths of capped PVC pipe. I can unroll this giant scroll (which did a brilliant job, by the way, of keeping cats and leaves out of the sandbox) over the newly planted greens and just wait for the harvest.