The Valerian

CORN Salad: Valerianella locusta var. olitoria is Latin for corn salad, a.k.a. "lamb's lettuce," "fetticus," and "mache." The only name all gardeners agree on is the Latin one. The plant originated in mid-Europe, where it grows wild, and Europeans love it; the cultivated varieties are a standard market item there.

Opinions of its flavor differ also: some think it bland, but I think it has a fine, nutty taste. For some people the bland aspect is disagreeable. But most get used to it and can even get to like corn salad as one of their basic salad ingredients. In appearance, it's a small flat, ground-hugging plant with oval or round leaves. Corn salad is a special treasure if used as a winter green, because it is one of the few delicate-tasting greens you can harvest from your garden between late December and April, particularly in the South but also in more temperate zones.

It's an impractical green though, because it tends to germinate poorly, takes a very long time to grow

(2-3 months) compared to other greens, and never gets very big; it remains just a little rosette of leaves. It does grow more quickly in warmer climates than in colder ones, and if planted in the fall, it gets going early in the spring. In fact, you can harvest corn salad any time it isn't frozen. But the most you can grow from a 100-foot row is a bushel. Varieties. In Europe they grow V olitoria or V eriocarpa (Italian lamb's lettuce). Eriocarpa differs from olitoria mainly in having fuzzy rather than smooth leaves and in doing much better in a warm Mediterranean-type climate than in more chilly climates.

Climate. Corn salad is a very hardy annual, as long as your weather isn't hot. Plant in succession, starting as early in the spring as you can get to the garden, because once each planting of corn salad grows its tiny blue flowers and goes to seed, it won't make any more greens. If you live in a cool-summer area, you can succession-plant through the summer. In a hot summer area, you can manage a summer crop by planting corn salad where it will be shaded in the afternoon. Plant in August for your first fall crop. In September, plant again. One way to plant is simply to broadcast those tiny seeds over your bare garden. That's its natural growing cycle—to germinate from fall rains, winter in a small rosette, and then finish growing in spring. In fact, corn salad that is allowed to make its tiny blue flowers and go to seed will self-sow. But not right away The seeds wait through the summer until fall, and only then do they sprout —about the time you're done harvesting other crops. Planting. Le Jardin du Gourmet offers several varieties. Or order from Nichols, Abundant Life, Redwood City, DeGiorgi, Cook's Garden, Bountiful, or Vermont Bean. For a big crop cover with V2 inch of dirt and make rows as close as 1 foot apart. The seed is tiny and light (8,000 per oz.), hard to manage, and sometimes has many germination failures. Plant generously and then thin to a 3-4-inch distance between plants.

Growing. You can harvest the quicker growers for salad in the fall. When the ground is about to freeze, spread a light mulch on the remaining ones. Corn salad can be a surprisingly good green manure and can literally carpet your soil for winter ground cover despite its small size. The plants are often unharmed, even by freezing, and can be thawed and added to your salad. Many plants will make it through even a harsh winter, especially if mulched, to provide your winter and early spring greens. In the South, plant in late fall—no mulch needed.

Begin harvesting whenever you feel like picking a leaf. It will take 6 or 7 weeks after you planted for the corn salad to reach mature size. Don't cut the leaves; pick them. Or you can pull out the whole plant to harvest. Corn salad grows low to the ground, only about 3 inches tall, so wash carefully to make sure it hasn't brought any soil in with it. The best harvesting is from about September to May. If the leaves are handled gently so as not to bruise, they'll keep a week in your fridge.

Serving. Use individual leaves or whole heads. Always use absolutely fresh corn salad; it can't be preserved. Cut off the roots and wash it well by swishing in and out of water. Corn salad is the perfect balance, either raw or cooked, for bitter or strong-tasting greens such as rocket, sorrel, cress, and beet greens. It's even better as the only green in the salad. It can be eaten raw or cooked and can be substituted for virtually any green in any recipe. Serve corn salad leaves

Most brassicas are biennials (mustard and broccoli are annuals); you have to keep the plant alive through

Saving Brassica Seeds a winter to get seed. The potential crossings are usually a nightmare because broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, etc. (any or all), will cross if flowering within 100 yards of each other.

on a saucer with radish and carrot, a sliced hard-boiled egg, and a tangy salad dressing. Other ideas: Use to garnish protein dishes; include in stir-fry with other vegetables; break into smaller pieces and add to any strong-flavored soup; chop into pieces and saute with pork chops and caraway seeds; serve in a salad mixed with a chicory, tomato sections, and an olive oil-lemon juice dressing; or cook like spinach and serve with vinegar.

CORN SALAD AND ROCKET WITH BEETS This gardener's salad is reprinted from the Nichols Garden Nursery catalog via Lane Morgan's Winter Harvest Cookbook. Ingredients: 4 c. mixed corn salad and rocket, I c. sliced cooked beets, 2 chopped green onions or very small leeks, !A c. olive oil, 3 T. red wine vinegar, I t. Dijon mustard, and salt and pepper. Wash greens, place in a bowl, and arrange beets and onions on top. Dress with oil, vinegar, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste.

Continue reading here: The Wonderful Motley Brassica Horde

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