After a deluge of rich foods at Christmas many people will be delighted to see a bowl of salad hit the table, and possibly even some freshly picked and al dente sprouts might go down well too.
Our sprouts have tasted really sweet in spite of comprehensive caterpillar attack in August. Sown outdoors in late May in modules, they were attacked by both birds eating their leaves, and flea beetle. This shows how every year is different, as normally flea beetle has subsided by then and birds have plenty else to eat in late May.
These skeletal plantlets were transplanted into rich soil in a suddenly hot July and the plants grew fast and furious. The tall and healthy stems formed lots of sprouts, but pushed their protective Enviromesh up off the soil floor and the cabbage white duly laid a mass of eggs. Yet the sprouts are now yielding well, and strong growth and good seed means very few ‘blown’ (loose) sprouts.
While first pickings are sweet, later pickings from further up the stem are often slightly less so. But if you manage to boil them for only a few minutes in the hiatus of Christmas Day their flavour and texture will be notably good.
Turning now to that Christmas salad, leaves tend to be thin and small in midwinter, and make slow and fiddly picking. In a greenhouse or tunnel you get faster growth and sweeter leaves.
Outdoors we have some true spinach (as opposed to perpetual spinach), land cress, dill, rocket, coriander and chervil, all from a late July sowing. The dill and landcress seed was seven years old, and made a slow and weak start but have now gained strength. The spinach is attractive to slugs but each plant still yields a leaf or two each week, with the promise of more as the days lengthen.
My household seems less keen on the ‘cabbagey’ taste of pak choi, tatsoi and mustards, and for me lambs lettuce is too fiddly to pick. Exceptions are Mizuna and Red Frills mustard, which have a mildly piquant taste, crisp texture when picked small, and are steadily productive even in midwinter. In the spring the flavour of Red Frills is wonderful.
Our Christmas salad bowl also features radicchio hearts from plants sown in late June, which are crunchy and crisp, and add a welcome red colour to proceedings. As you get to the small leaves in the centre the flavour is really sweet. Outdoor endive and swiss chard is also quite productive, best with regular picking of small leaves.
I hope you have all vegetated well this year, and wish you all a rich and fertile Christmas. But watch out, what do you get if you have too many Christmas decorations? Tinselitis.