How to Grow Mache (Corn Salad): Spring's First Green

comments (6) April 20th, 2009

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Plant mâche in the fall for use in early spring.
These full-grown rosettes come from large-seeded mâche varieties.
Mâche  seeds can be collected in late spring and saved for replanting when cool weather returns.
Plant mâche in the fall for use in early spring.Click To Enlarge

Plant mâche in the fall for use in early spring.

Photo: Janet Jemmott

When I was a child, our family celebrated the year’s first garden salad of nutty, dark-green rosettes that we called feldsalat. Back then, my mother had the seeds mailed from Germany. These days, I share my love for those thick, emerald leaves all winter long with my husband, who calls them la mâche. He grew up in France, where this humble weed with its elevated gourmet status graces bistro menus and markets alike.

  Sources for mâche
If you're having trouble locating mâche seeds on these or other Web sites, try searching for "corn salad" or even "greens".

The Cooks Garden
PO Box C5030
Warminster, PA 18974
800-457-9703
www.cooksgarden.com

Johnny's Selected Seeds
955 Benton Avenue
Winslow, Maine 04901
877-564-6697
www.johnnyseeds.com

Ornamental Edibles
5723 Trowbridge Way
San Jose, Ca 95138
408-528-7333
www.ornamentaledibles.com

Found growing wild in grain fields in Europe, la mâche was once available only in early spring. Commercial greenhouses in Europe now supply improved cultivars year-round. In North America, this easy-to-grow green is some­times called corn salad or lamb’s lettuce.

Mâche 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, mâche is a hardy survivor, requiring little care and remaining free of pests and disease.

Choose from small- or large-seeded varieties
About 60 varieties of mâche have been developed from the original wild plant, with differences in leaf size, shape, and flavor. Of these, only a few are available in North America, and fall into two categories: large-seeded and small-seeded.

Small-seeded mache   Large-seeded mache
Small seeded varieties boast more flavor than the larger-seeded varieties, and do best grown in the winter.   Large-seeded vartieties are highly productive plants that are resistant to heat. These are full-grown rosettes.
   
The large-seeded varieties produce 4- to 8-inch rosettes, with a light green color, and narrow, elongated, spoon-shaped leaves. Highly productive, easy-to-harvest large-seeded cultivars include ‘Grosse Graine’, ‘Piedmont’, and ‘Valgros’.

The small-seeded varieties produce plants 2 to 5 inches in diameter, with rounder and darker-green leaves. Though more finicky to pick and clean, small-seeded choices such as ‘Coquille de Louviers’, ‘D’Etampes’, or ‘Verte de Cambrai’ are definitely more flavorful. In general, large-seeded types resist heat better; small-seeded types prefer cool, moist conditions, and do best when grown only in winter.

Sow seeds around Labor Day
Like many weeds, mâche grows vigorously in almost any soil, although it will produce more foliage with the addition of nitrogen-rich compost or manure. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I generally sow the seeds shortly after the Labor Day weekend. 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.

Mache
Started in September, this young bed of mâche puts on some growth during the autumn, but will be bountiful in the early spring.
 
Mâche is remarkably hardy. The only gardeners who must forego this winter treat are those living in zones where the mercury dips below 5°F. A cold frame or mulching with straw or coniferous branches can provide significant protection in colder climates. Alternatively, cold climate gardeners can enjoy a late spring harvest from seed planted as soon as the soil can be worked, in late winter.

To plant in rows, sow three or four seeds per inch, 1⁄4 inch deep, with the rows about 10 inches apart. Keep the soil moist, until autumn weather takes over this chore.

I prefer to plant in blocks, often covering several empty beds, as mâche makes an excellent green manure and soil conditioner if you turn under what’s left after your harvest. I broadcast the seeds on the soil surface, tamp the soil with a rake or press the bed flat with a board (a level bed facilitates harvesting), and mulch with a sparse layer of hay. Thinning is not necessary, but can mean the difference between a 3-inch and a 6-inch rosette.

Harvest 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.

Thinning   Mache seeds
Thinning young plants benefits those that remain, and at the same time puts succulent greens on the table.   Collect seed from your mache plants when the heat of late spring arrives. Both large and small seeds are shown here.
   
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.

Mâche in the kitchen
Purists (and I’m one of them) will argue that mâche 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.

by Ingrid Bauer
February 2000
from issue #25


posted in: greens, corn salad, mache

Comments (6)

BobMontesanoWA writes: Just had a salad of Feldsalat Valentin 10/27/2013 seed from Germany grown in Montesano, WA. Planted late summer. Had never seen before trip to Germany. Friend said it was traditional there to sow between vinyard rows for winter salad. No slugs or aphids or other pests on it. Just planted some more as edible cover crop for garden and in cold frame, a little late probably but I am hopeful. This will really help fill out the fresh winter vegetable selection with carrots, beets and parsnips available through the winter and spring and the hardy lettuce varieties growing for early spring harvest. Any other ideas out there on winter garden in northern coastal areas with moderate rainy weather but some snow and freezing?
Bob
Posted: 1:18 pm on October 28th
Patton70 writes: Just moved to Germany, and I've already seen seeds for several different varieties.
available. I'm definitely going to have to try as many as possible. Mache makes a great tasting salad!
Posted: 4:18 am on August 9th
jwr12 writes: It's all the rage here in Germany (where I'm living for a year), so I may well be bringing seeds back. I've noticed that they tend to serve collections of whole rosettas here, leaves still connected together, and it almost looks like a miniature bok choi, if that makes sense as an image: deer tongue leaves connected back to lighter stems that fall back into a single root. Great!

I definitely like the idea of planting this as a carpet over harvested beds in the early fall -- but I'm a little worried that, living in Illinois, our occasional hot fall day will cause it all to bolt. We'll see.
Posted: 1:05 am on November 4th
Joe_in_Missouri writes: I have yet to get a decent germination from the large seeded and small seeded Mache that I bought at Baker Creek seeds. Probably because it was way too hot.

Has anyone tried germination in the fridge or starting transplants inside? (still probably too hot even with the air running.)

Thanks!
Joe
Posted: 3:53 pm on July 18th
DiggingEarth writes: I am getting ready to do a fall planting of Mache here in Northern New Jersey this weekend. I will be posting pictures on my site http:\\www.diggingearth.com and leave my progress to easily be tracked by others. I want to try to harvest over the whole winter so I will be building a cold frame as well.

Your article is fantastic and the best I have read yet about this crop. Thank you!

-John
Posted: 4:22 pm on September 18th
Anatole writes: I never heard of mache before today and now everyone is talking about it. Check out the NPR report on this green here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1370492



Posted: 9:43 am on April 21st
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