It doesn’t take a lot of space, a widow box or even a pot on your stoop can hold a cherry tomato plant and some lettuce!
One of the things I love the most about this time of year is putting out the first lettuce and kale starts. I’m impatient to begin again, so I tuck these little plants from the garden center in the cold frame and know that in a few weeks, I’ll be making salad! I also sew some lettuce seeds at the same time for the next wave, so my gardening is not all about instant gratification. Peas must be planted early, and I’m glad to oblige. The old New England adage is that if you have to roll up your sleeves when you plant the peas, you waited too long!
A new routine
This year, I had to order the local plants online, pay for them, and show up to the farm stand to pick them up. The process was pretty easy, I parked, the masked worker, 15 or 20 feet away, asked my name and she brought the flat out and put it on a table well away from me so I could pick it up. It was pretty flawless, and the only down side was that I did not get to choose the plants myself, although they did a great job and not a “skip” to be found, those little empty cells in the six-pack where a plant should have been.
Always room for a few vegetables
When the kids were at home and we lived in a cabin in the woods, I had a massive garden and grew much of our own food. I loved it, but it did require a lot of work. When we moved to this house in the village to operate an inn, I decided to devote my lot to flowers and let the local farmers provide most of the food. However, I’ve always had tomatoes and lettuce, kale and pak choi, Swiss chard and snow peas, as well as tons of perennial and annual herbs to add to our plates. I’ve tucked parsley in with the pansies in the flower beds, kale with the Sweet William phlox, and underplanted rose bushes with thyme. It all seems to work.
Every year, I plant something different to supplement the greens. Last year it was stevia and artichokes! The artichokes were not as successful as the stevia, and I’ll grow this “sweet herb” which was how it was labeled, again. Not sure what I will find this year that’s different, although I ordered seeds of a few new radicchio varieties and some dark purple carrots.
Even limited space can provide lots of food!
You don’t need much space to grow a few treasures. One cherry tomato plant can provide tons of fruit all summer long if you cheat and get a big plant that is already in flower. Underplant it with some cut-and-come-again lettuce and you have salad for months!
Plant a Victory Garden, or a Victory Window Box
Many of us have felt vulnerable this spring with shortages of a lot of staple foods, and we’e been wise to go to the stores for food only when absolutely necessary, this means we have perhaps a little less fresh greens in the refrigerator. A lot of folks are planning their own little Victory Gardens this year, and that’s good news for everyone. If you’ve never grown even simple vegetables before, check out your state’s Extension Service for lots of tips on growing for your own climate, but start simple until you get the hang of it.
Then top off your creation with a delicious dressing that you make according to your own taste. It’s much cheaper than store-bought, tastes better, and is better for you because it is not filled with a bunch of chemicals! Plus, you might just avoid another trip got the market.
Spring Salad and Your Own Signature Vinaigrette
I think of making the first spring salad of my own greens as a ritual. The tender leaves are sublime! To show them off at their best means a simple vinaigrette and perhaps a few fresh herbs.
While you can get by with just oil and vinegar and a little salt, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just a couple more additions, a few taste tests, and you have a house dressing of your very own. This vinaigrette is how I like it in its basic form, but I fiddle with it all the time. Often, I turn it into a lemon vinaigrette by using the zest from the lemon as well. When my tarragon starts coming in nicely in the herb bed, I’ll frequently use that as well.
What do you like best? Use the oil, vinegar in whatever proportion pleases you. Start with one part or so of acid (vinegar and lemon juice) and three of olive oil. Taste on some lettuce and add more acid if you like, or more oil. Then, think about other additions to make what your family will love to call its own, and forget about those expensive bottles of dressing that are filled with who knows what!
- 1 head Boston or other favorite spring lettuce
- Few leaves of favorite herb
Vinaigrette (how I like it):
- 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. white wine or sherry vinegar
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Freshly ground pepper
Other additions (depending on the mood and the dish):
- The zest from the lemon
- 1 tbsp. finely minced shallot, optional
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced, optional
- 1 tbsp. crushed capers
- Freshly snipped chives
- A sprig of fresh thyme or tarragon
- Swap out other oils for the olive oil
- Swap out other vinegars such as champagne or cider
First, wash the lettuce gently, Rinse it quickly under cold water or dip in a bowl of water. Don’t let it sit in the water as many of the nutrients will end up there rather than in your lettuce! Shake the excess water off and place it on a tea towel.
Gently roll up the tea towel. I roll it up burrito style and stash it in the refrigerator if not using immediately. I’ve tried everything, and I think this is the best way to keep the lettuce fresh.
Make the vinaigrette by combining everything in a jar and shake like crazy to emulsify. If there is just about the right amount of Dijon left in the jar, use that as your shaker!
Taste. Correct the acid or oil level if needed, and add more salt and pepper if necessary. This is your dressing, so make it how you like it best, but taste with a leaf of lettuce, it is too hard to tell if the balance is where you want it if you are tasting it straight up, all your tongue will probably pick up on is the acid.
Place two tablespoons of the dressing in a large salad bowl and add the leaves. With your clean hands, gently mix the lettuce with the vinaigrette. Taste. If you want a little more vinaigrette, add it, but you want the delicate lettuce to be lightly dressed and not limp and soggy!
Garnish with the herbs and serve!
You can any of the extras that you like to the vinaigrette, and any other vegetables you want to the salad. Spring radishes are nice, as are scallions or chives.
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