Last night I had my first spring green salad from the garden of this year. Mache, also known as corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, and Rapunzel is very hardy, and survives winter as cold as 5⁰ F, but colder if there’s snow cover. This record-breaking early spring in the Eastern half of the country with its phenomenal warmth prompted the mache to start growing earlier than usual. Mache is one of those welcome plants that re-seed themselves without much attention from the gardener. I had initially seeded a couple of rows last spring and made sure to leave about one quarter of the mature plants in place and harvested the rest. The untouched plants will flower and go to seed, usually germinating in late summer and early fall, with most in the same area as their “mother” plants, but several wind-blown here and there about the garden. I always pick some for fall salads before the winter starts, but leave many for a spring harvest when the plants increase in size.
With a delicate flavor that is almost floral, and a soft, tender texture, the small leaves are a spring treat that one appreciates with awareness of its unique timing. I had my salad with just mache and a drizzle of fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Later on, when there are other greens to play with, I’ll combine it with more assertive arugula and different colored lettuces and herb sprigs.
Sow seeds in the early spring or late summer and cover with ¼ to ½ inch of soil. Since the plants mature quickly, in 45 to 60 days from seeding, they can be used as an attractive, closely planted companion for later, larger plants like tomatoes or peppers . The mache will be harvested when the neighboring plants are gaining in size. Enjoy eating the thinnings to allow rosettes to grow a couple of inches apart. Mature plants are petite, only 3 to 4 inches across at best. Harvest the entire rosette by cutting at the soil level. Once the weather gets consistently warm, the plants will flower and the leaves will be less tender and tasty, but that will be the start of the process for next fall’s new volunteers. Vit and Verte de Cambrai are 2 varieties that have performed well for me.