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Summer Salad Greens

Sarah West

By Sarah West

As summer starts to hit its stride, confronting garden rows with dryness and heat, head lettuces tend to make like a Parisian and go out of town for the month of August. While it is entirely possible to grow head lettuces through the summer, performance is often lackluster and frustrating once the temperatures rise—without abundant irrigation and steady fertility, head lettuces tend to suffer stunted growth then bolt in the blink of an eye.

Luckily, summer offers its own assortment of heat-loving greens and the selection in local markets and seed catalogs seems to get better each year. Below is a guide to some off-season greens that we’ve seen from time to time at market. Add new dimension to your salad repertoire, take advantage of the unusually dense nutrients some of them offer, and keep the fresh greens flowing in the heart of grilling season.

baby salad greensBaby Greens Mix While it is challenging to grow mature lettuces in the peak of summer’s heat, baby lettuces, kales and mustards make a delicious and quick salad crop. Scatter seeds in a new 2-4 square foot patch every two weeks for a continuous supply and water regularly, or let your market farmers do the growing for you!

lambsquartersLambsquarters Cousin to spinach and beets, lambsquarters (also called goosefoot and pigweed) is a weed of cultivated ground, appearing in gardens and among agricultural crops in profusion. Their young leaves are succulent and tender and make delicious salad greens with a nutty and rich mineral greenness. Lambsquarters is one of the most nutritious salad greens, high in protein, calcium, iron and vitamin-A, as well as many trace minerals of which it is an excellent scavenger. Sautéed, lambsquarters easily stand in for spinach or even surpass it if you appreciate a concentration of smooth spinach flavor. Try laying roasted zucchini on a bed of lightly dressed lambsquarters to slightly wilt them and complement zucchini’s mild, sweet flavor with lambsquarters’ rich base.

quinoa leavesQuinoa Leaves Close relative to lambsquarters, quinoa has a fleshier leaf and more versatility in the garden. As a salad green, quinoa is best harvested before it starts to set its flower stalk. Similar to lambsquarters, quinoa is a nutritional goldmine wrapped up in vegetal spinach flavor. In the garden, quinoa does triple duty as salad green, ornamental, and seed crop. As quinoa seed heads mature, they take on electric hues of pink, orange, burgundy and green that add interest and bold color to the vegetable patch or ornamental border. As a food source, quinoa seeds are a high-protein grain-like food that, when cooked, have a texture similar to couscous. Get the best of all three growth stages by harvesting raw greens from juvenile plants, then letting them grow to produce seed. Leaves from mature plants may still be eaten, though are better cooked at that stage.

purslanePurslane Succulent and strange to our flat-leaf-oriented tastes, purslane is an anomaly of a salad ingredient. Wild native of the Mediterranean, northern Africa, Middle East and India, purslane has an extensive catalog of uses in salads, soups, porridges, stews, pickles and even as a pastry filling. As a salad green, think Mediterranean flavors: toss with tomatoes, feta, cucumber, oregano, and a robust vinaigrette. We would all do well to embrace purslane’s briny lemon-and-pepper juiciness, for it contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other green vegetable, along with calcium, potassium and vitamin-A. Purslane’s stalk is too fibrous to eat raw; remove its leaves by pinching the base and running your fingers along the length of the stem to release them. The most challenging aspect of purslane is its mucilaginous texture. Start with purslane as an accent before making it a summer salad base.

orachOrach Another spinach tribe salad green, orach is a soft-leaved, scarcely domesticated green with handsome arrowhead-shaped leaves available in a dazzling variety of colors. Garden orach, the most domesticated edible variety, got it’s name from the French word arroche, derived from the Latin word for ‘golden,’ a nod to the golden green leaves some garden varieties sport. Gardeners throughout orach’s wide natural range have always reveled in its spectral genetics, and renewed interest in orach as a garden green has helped continue the tradition of selecting for vibrant pigments: magenta, purple with fuchsia-pink veins, burgundy red, and eggplant. Turn your salad into a party by seeding a mix of orach varieties. Though orach’s greens hold longer than spinach’s in summer’s heat, orach will eventually bolt and performs best as a food crop when sown in succession into moist, rich soil. Harvest leaves until the plants reach 18-inches, then let it go to seed; its ornamental bracts are as lovely in the vase as they are in the flower garden.

fresh herbsFresh Herbs We tend to think of herbs solely as a seasoning agent—concentrations of aromatic flavor, we use them more sparingly than not in our cooking. Rich in vitamin A, flat leaf parsley has a pleasing combination of sweet and bitter notes, with a backbone of celery aroma. Young leaves are tender and make a delicious salad green, chopped finely and tossed with cooked grains, as in tabbouleh, or simply tossed with oil and something acidic like lemon juice or pickled onions. Try adding a handful of basil, dill, parsley or cilantro leaves to your salad mix. Keeping the leaves whole means their volatile oils won’t begin to dissipate before you take a bite.

Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter June 14 2013

Sarah West

We are back again at Hillsdale Farmers' Market this Sunday. The market is located near Wilson High School. Opens at 10:00 AM sharp.

Sour Cherries: Among these cherries, there are varieties with dark juice, generally classified as Morellos, Montmorency Cherriesand varieties with clear juice, classified as Amarelles. This week, we have the Amarelle called Montmorency. Equally satisfying, but a distinct flavor from the dark-juiced Hungarians of last week. In our preserves, we also include about 15% English Morello with its pleasing bitterness, along with Montmorency and the Hungarians.

The Amarelle cherries are particularly popular in France and England, as well as the United States. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Oregon's Willamette Valley are the two important American tart cherry regions. It is commonly asserted that Montmorency cherries are too sour to eat out hand. That is largely a matter of growers picking them when they are still on the acidic side of ripening. Though they have a tannic edge, the cherries this week are running over 16° BRIX, which higher than any of the cane fruit.  

One of the benefits of growing sour cherries is the fact that birds have a tough time pulling them off the tree. Moreover, the limbs are so willowy they cannot peck away at the fruit as they do with Prunus avium, bird (sweet) cherries. Robins, starlings and orioles like them but only as an occasional treat; they soon tire of the task and go back to eating insects. So they are an avian dessert, rather than a main course.

The spotted-winged drosophila or vinegar fly thrives on Montmorency cherries so we have to be careful harvesting the fruit. We have been working with staff on harvesting so we avoid the cherries with larvae. If you all run into a larva, and it is likely, the only thing we can say is that it is natural verification of our gentle approach towards other creatures on the farm. For the most part, the spiders in the orchard, along with the dragon flies, keep the vinegar fly populations at bay. And our restraint keeps the native bee populations and other interesting insect populations robust because we don't use the neonicotinoids and the rest of the arsenal of insecticides recommended for control of the fruit fly. The neonicotinoids are particularly nasty because they are generally applied to the soil and are absorbed into the plant tissues. The fruit is never sprayed, allowing for a plausible "no spray" claim. Many of our native bees are ground nesters, so they get it coming and going. An occasional fruit fly larva among the cherries means there is a bumble bee larva also developing safely underneath the tree.

Correction: Last week, a sharp-eyed reader alerted us to the fact that Lake Balaton is not part of the Danube drainage. More mortifying, Balaton in in the region known as Transdanubia, the woody hinterlands beyond the Danube Valleys. The comeuppance is not total because in the mix of Hungarian cherries last week was another variety called Danube, also introduced by Amy Iezzoni of Michigan State. So there was a bit of the Danube among the Balatons, even if it is not geographically accurate. Interestingly, a third Iezzoni introduction, Jubilleum, bore no fruit this year. It flowered during a brief frosty period which killed the bloom. When we purchased the trees from Cummins Nursery, we paid a royalty which is returned to the Hungarians for further agricultural research.

Soft Fruit: We are in that paradox of high diversity distinguished by general scarcity: a lot of little and mostly unpredictable. We harvest during the day Saturday for Sunday's market, so all of the fruit is in top shape. This is the advantage of buying from a farm that sells at a single market. We are not putting out fruit that didn't sell at Saturday's market. But it also means we are clueless as to the exact nature of the harvest until Saturday evening, long after you have received this.

Unfortunately, the black currants were so badly scorched by the hot spell, we won't have any more this summer. It is not simply aesthetic. The sunburn turns them bitter. There is a lilting song by Sondheim that sums up the bitterness of beauty burned by the summer sun. We will have some purple raspberries, the baby crop from last year's planting. Next year, they will be abundant. They also suffer from the touch of sun, but excel when exposed to a bit heat on the stove, which brings out the complex flavor. Purples are a hybrid between the red and black raspberries.

Greens: Our summer greens program is always an afterthought because our emphasis is on fruit, pulses and grains. Consequently, our greens production is a bit ad hoc. We grow what we crave and can't find from Gathering Together Farm, our primary outside source of greens. This week we will have some purslane, and a mixture of amaranth and orach.

Purslane can be chopped and added raw to yoghurt for a refreshing salad. Mostly we saute it quickly in pan drippings or olive oil. It is more accessible when cooked or pickled, losing its sharp edge. It doesn't sell well, so we eat and pickle what is left over when we return from the market. We pickle the tops with a bit of salt, garlic cloves, peppercorns and diluted vinegar (40 - 50% vinegar). Around the globe purslane is a treasured pot green, but in the United States here is little interest in this nourishing plant, so it is more often treated with herbicides than respect.  Enough grousing. By next week, the weevils will render the planting unsaleable.

Grains & Pulses: Frikeh, cornmeal, popcorn, chickpeas, black turtle and Dutch bullet beans.

We will see you all tomorrow,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm

In between the Rain Showers, Dig up a Patch in your Garden

Sarah West

Gales Meadow Farm will be back at the Hillsdale Market on March 4th. We will bring starts of many kinds of hardy vegetables plants – sugar snap peas, shelling peas, lettuce, kale, broccoli, beets, and others. Even if the temperature were to fall to 22ºF, these little veggies will survive and thrive. They will do even better with a light covering of floating row cover (Reemay or Agribon, available at garden supply shops and online through seed companies).

These early vegetables do need protection from slugs. We have two methods which do not involve poison and which really make a difference:

  • Save your eggshells and crush them up into a fine powder. Sprinkle the eggshell powder around your plants. Slugs just hate the way the eggshells get stuck on their slimy skin and they will not cross egg shell powder.
  • Mix water and flour to the consistency of cream. Add a pinch of sugar and a package of yeast to a half gallon of this mix. Put an inch or two of this liquid in deli or yogurt containers, sink them in the ground here and there among your vegetable plants, and watch the slugs crawl in and die. This is better than the old beer technique because the alcohol, which is what attracts the nasty little creatures, is continuously renewed for up to a week, rather than dissipating within a few hours. About once a week, dispose of the contents in your compost, and do it again.

We use both these anti-slug defenses at Gales Meadow Farm, and we have another one as well: ducks. Our 14 ducks and Sgt. Queenie the goose range around the farm all day. They nibble on some of the winter greens, but their main diet is slugs, grubs, and other pesky things. A wonderful by-product of this slug control technique is duck eggs. We will have rich and delicious duck eggs for sale at the market.

We will also have some winter greens, arugula, and other produce. The amounts will be limited, so come early.