I miss green.
As I undertake my annual seed hunt, I find myself drooling excessively over the sheer wonder that is naught but a leaf.
But what a leaf.
Last year was near perfect in my garden for growing greens, what with the copious amounts of rain, the criminal lack of sunshine and the cooler-than-the-Arctic weather. Some of the plants continued to thrive until the first snowfall buried the garden on Dec. 5.
Unbeknownst to me, the prescient National Garden Bureau (www.ngb.org) had declared 2009 the year of the greens, touting their loveliness to one and all while offering a look through the ages of greens.
When we munch a green, we harken back to the gathering aspect of prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
A mere 2,500 years ago, Asian greens such as mustards were under cultivation.
Lettuce made its recorded debut around 550 B.C. when it enjoyed a royal presentation to the kings of Persia. The NGB notes that the lettuce served then was nothing like the iceberg heads of the modern world. It is thought that the leaves were harvested from stalks that looked similar to today’s plants after they bolt.
The Egyptians even painted tombs with images of lettuce that resemble today’s romaine varieties.
Here in America, the NGB writes, George Washington extolled the virtues of eating the greenery to his soldiers, calling greens “very conducive to health, and tend to prevent the scurvy.”
I feel preventing the scurvy is a noble pursuit.
Greens aren’t complicated; they are simply plants grown for their edible leaves. It is a pretty big field of contestants, with many coming from the Brassicaceae or cabbage family.
Included are arugula, Asian greens such as mizuna and tatsoi, cress, collards and mustard greens. Interestingly, these greens tend to have stronger flavors, especially once they have matured.
From the Asteraceae or daisy family come the lettuces, Lactuca sativa. There are countless varieties of lettuce falling into a number of lettuce types: bibb, butterhead, Batavia, crisphead, romaine and leaf, to name a few.
I also love my chard and kale along with my beet and turnip greens. I find I like chicory. Purslane is another favorite.
And the list goes on.
This year, I again will plant last season’s great find: Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress.
It was the name that got me initially on this garden cress, but the plants that emerged were nothing short of perfect. The leaves are just as described and look adorably rumpled, and the flavor was a nice tang but not too strong. I often would pick a stem as I walked by and then munch on it as I moved on to the next bit of work.
Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled Cress is available from a number of seed sellers, including Fedco Seeds (www.fedcoseeds.com) of Waterville and Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com) of Albion.
I also have my eye on a chicory from Seeds from Italy (www.growitalian.com) of Massachusetts. This company offers a tempting array of unusual plants that one tends not to find in most commercial seed catalogs, one of the reasons I love to peruse the offerings each year.
Chicory Galantina is an incredibly odd-looking plant that is also known as asparagus chicory. The stems are disproportionate to the leaves — hence the asparagus label — with the plant looking a bit like Medusa’s hair if it were made of thick-stemmed plants and not writhing snakes.
It’s described as suitable for use in salads or cooked, with a “nice crunchy taste.”
Another Seeds from Italy variety to consider is Portuguese kale, which I grew a couple of years back. The leaves are gargantuan, but that doesn’t affect taste or texture. What sold me on it was the line that the seed seller “claims it is the best kale” even though it isn’t Italian. I would agree, but you need to make sure you have the space: Think squash plant size.
For a lettuce to consider, try Cracoviensis from Fedco. This French heirloom has an amazing color pattern that remains unmatched, with leaves alternating freckles to full blush to just shades of green. The underlying color is anywhere from a yellow-green to a medium green with a deep red punctuating many of the leaves. This looseleaf variety can bolt quickly, but it doesn’t seem to go bitter as other lettuces do.
If you can’t make up your mind, then go for a greens mix, often called mesclun. Some versions have only lettuces in the mix while some include goodies such as chicory, endive and escarole. Variety is the spice of mesclun.
And you just may prevent the scurvy.