Friday, September 15, 2006

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/16/06)

As the delights of summer gradually wind down and the baleful beauty of autumn looms, the promises of a distant spring tantalize the High Country gardener, especially a garden salad garden of greens freshly picked moments before they are washed, tossed, and eaten. In short, it is never too early to plan and anticipate, the seed catalogue being the gardener’s harbinger of hope. While Eugene O’Neill was right about The Iceman Cometh, eventually The Iceman leaveth.

Lettuce, the basic ingredient of a garden salad, is easy to grow and can be seeded well before the widely predicted last frost in June. Surprisingly, while lettuce looks delicate, as with many delicate appearing beauties, it is hardy. As a cool weather vegetable it is a fit for Flagstaff. A great favorite is the loose-leaf Black Seeded Simpson (Lactuca sativa), a beautiful lime-green, loose-leaf, sweet-tasting lettuce with broad, crumpled, frilly leaves. First developed by a Mr. A. Simpson in New York in 1864, it is an all-American heirloom lettuce. In salads, as in all food, appearance makes for good taste, and Black Seeded Simpson visually invites the palate with flavorful promises.

Coupled with the succulent beauty of Black Seeded Simpson is the exotic elegance of Lollo Rossa, an Italian heirloom. A magenta-hued Mediterranean beauty, mild and sweet with a green interior edged in red, it is beguiles the eye with savory anticipations. Another good red leaf for a salad are the young leaves of the English heirloom beet, the Bull’s Blood (Beta vulgaris). Its leaves, as with its fruit, are deep maroon, sweet and dusky. The leaves can also be used in bouquets as a delightful backdrop to light-colored flowers. The fruit gives a salad, a hauntingly deep, rich color and taste.

Completing the lettuce roster is the Forellenschluss or the speckled trout lettuce. An Austrian heirloom, its broad, smooth chartreuse leaves are splashed with dusty red specks. Crisp and sweet, it is a delight to the eye as well as the tongue.

No delicious garden salad would be complete without cherry tomatoes, both red and yellow. The Siberian heirloom Galina (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) is yellow with a sweet, complex favor. Bill McDorman of Seeds Trust writing in Mother Earth News claims it is “arguably our most flavorful tomato.” Complementing the Galina is the Hybrid Sweet Baby Girl F1 which has been touted as the “world’s best tasting red cherry tomato.”

For carnivores a few thin strips of julienne delicatessen ham and Swiss cheese might garnish the salad. Croutons made of ciabatta bread add a nice chewy crunch to the salad. Lightly toss with a dressing of olive oil, a pinch of sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Two good dressings (Gretchen Anne’s and Hazel Marguerite’s) can be found at

A salad such as this would fetch $25.00 to $30.00 at fancy eateries in Sedona, Scottsdale, and West Los Angeles. However, in Flagstaff with some well-composted soil and a little elbow grease it would cost about $15.00 in seeds, not for just one salad, but for a whole summer of such salads. Bonne jardinage. Bon appetit..

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2006