Greens to please every palate

  • By Lee Reich Associated Press
  • Wednesday, April 21, 2010 9:27am
  • Life

Last call to plant the cool-season greens, those leafy vegetables that make up the salads and potages in the cool weather of spring and fall.

With a little patch of garden space, you can do better than iceberg lettuce, the mainstay of restaurants and supermarkets. If you miss the deadline (right now), you do get one more chance this year; you can sow in late summer and fall for harvest during fall and winter.

Lettuce galore

Easier to grow and tastier than iceberg lettuce are leaf lettuces, such as Black Seeded Simpson and Salad Bowl. If you harvest only the outer leaves, new leaves will keep growing from the center until summer heat finally turns them bitter.

Boston-type lettuces like Buttercrunch, Bibb and Tom Thumb take a little longer to mature than leaf lettuces, but are well worth the wait for their loose heads of tender, buttery leaves.

If you like the crunch of iceberg, try growing Romaine for torpedo-shaped heads of crunch and sweet flavor.

Lettuce comes in other varieties, too. Some have leaves that are speckled red, some are hybrids of Romaine and Boston types, melding the crunch and sweetness of one with the butteriness of the other. Still others have leaves shaped like oak leaves, and some are frilly and green or red. They are as much fun to grow as to mix in a salad bowl.

Mild and piquant

One of my favorite greens goes under the names corn salad, fetticus, mache and lamb’s lettuce. Not everyone agrees, but to me the tender leaves have a mild taste that hints of rose petals. Another plus for this plant is that it is extremely hardy in cold weather. You can harvest a late-summer planting long into fall and on into winter, and then continue early the following spring.

Another favorite, with a much shorter harvest season, is called erba stella. It’s an edible species of plantain with thin, crunchy leaves.

Not all greens have a mild taste. The spicy leaves of rocket, also known as rucola or arugula, really wake up a salad. Leaf mustard is another piquant choice.

The Japanese, known for their appreciation of the chrysanthemum flower, have developed a chrysanthemum with edible, spicy leaves, called shungiku greens.

For a green with a sour taste, which makes a good cold soup, there is also sorrel, or sourgrass. It is a perennial, so you need plant it but once.

Spinach is a standby of my spring and fall greens garden. As soon as weather turns warm in late spring, though, production ceases as seed stalks form. But spinach’s relative, Swiss chard, keeps producing all summer and on into fall, and usually again the following spring.

Cabbage and kin

The cabbage family gives us a slew of greens, many of which are cooked because of their coarse texture and robust flavor. These include turnip greens, which are quick-growing and produce turnip roots also, and kale, which bears all summer and is hardy enough to be harvested from beneath winter snow. Chinese cabbages come in many shapes and textures.

Even without a garden, the suburban or rural forager can pick something fresh for the salad bowl. Yellow flowers make dandelions easy to spot this time of year. Harvest the tender toothed leaves at the base of the flower stalk.

Spires of yellow flowers in meadows mark the wild cresses and mustards, which taste like their cultivated cousins.

When picking any wild greens, make sure they have not been sprayed. Be especially suspect of the few dandelions that might have sneaked into an otherwise perfectly manicured lawn.

All greens are rich in vitamins (especially A, C and E) and minerals (iron and calcium). Give them fertile soil, for they are at their best grown fast and succulent.

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