Growing Corn Salad
Corn Salad has a delicate flavor, which resembles a nutty, concentrated butterhead lettuce. The leaves provide a nutritious boost of vitamins and minerals, especially iron. Producing attractive and tasty fare at a time when little else is available, Corn Salad is a hardy survivor, requiring little care and remaining free of pests and disease.
Planting Corn Salad
Like many weeds, corn salad grows vigorously in almost any soil, although it will produce more foliage with the addition of nitrogen-rich compost or manure. Some seed catalogs recommend planting in spring and then spacing the sowings throughout the summer for a continuous harvest. I find, however, that the seeds germinate poorly and bolt quickly in hot weather. Ideally, seeds should be planted after mid-August, when temperatures are beginning to drop, and before the end of September.
Started in September, this young bed of corn salad puts on some growth during the autumn, but will be bountiful in the early spring. Corn Salad is remarkably hardy and will survive a cold winter, a little straw or fleece over the plants will help on very cold nights
Harvesting Leaves or Rosettes
Robust growth in good conditions provides me with the first bowlful of mâche thinnings by late October. In my garden, in British Columbia, plants reach their peak size and flavor in February and March. To harvest, I grasp the plant and cut near the base for whole rosettes, or an inch or two higher for cut-and-come-again leaves. Mâche stores well for up to two weeks in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Wash it just before serving.
Leaves can be plucked well into April, when the plants bolt to seed; they remain tender, with no hint of bitterness or spice. When the plants are mature, I shake the flower stalks into a paper bag and have no trouble gathering an ample supply of next year’s seed. A light hoeing then turns the remaining stalks and stems into the soil as green manure.
Corn Salad in the Kitchen
Purists (and I’m one of them) will argue that corn salad tastes best right in the garden, or dressed with little more than a light drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I also sometimes serve them in a simple salad with mushrooms and red onion. Traditionally, though, the French prefer la mâche with cooked beets and walnuts. Whatever your preference, once you’ve tried it, this easy-to-grow gourmet green will become a welcome regular in your winter garden.