The other day, when we showed up with the season’s first salad order, one of Persephone Farm’s restaurant customers clapped her hands and gave a little cheer. “We’ve been waiting for this all winter,” she said, snatching a bag of greens out of our hands.
So have we. Salad is Persephone Farm’s signature product. Its flavor and texture are so unusual it commands a price that, if it was just a little bit higher, would put us in head-to-head price competition with some very dangerous Columbian gentlemen. Nonetheless, we can barely keep up with the demand.
Rebecca and the interns work very hard to make the salad special—picking in the salad garden before sunup on delivery days so it will be delivered fresh and last for a week or more, double washing to make sure no rogue slugs make their way onto a customer’s dinner plate, and including an array of greens that even the late, great granddaddy of all salad foragers, Euell Gibbons, author of “Stalking the Wild Asparagus”, would have admired.
Take Miner’s Lettuce—no, go ahead, take some. Try a nibble, you’ll be surprised.
Who would have thought this scourge of gardeners and lawn tenders everywhere would make such a nice addition to a salad. Miners Lettuce, it turns out, tastes “green and fresh”, according to Rebecca, and is rich in vitamins A and C. Baby mustard greens add a hot, spicy note to the mix. Cress is peppery. Kale buds: sweet.
And so on. It is easy to get carried away with this sort of thing and start sounding like a wine snob. But there is a resemblance. The salad that our restaurant client was so happy to see contains up to 60 kinds of greens, most of them snipped leaf-by-leaf that morning. No two pickings are the same and the makeup shifts as the season progresses. Lettuce, that old standby, is in there, of course, but it doesn’t dominate like it does in most commercial salads.
“Our salad is for the adventurous palate,” Rebecca says. “It’s not just a platform for the dressing.” In fact, when she visits restaurants the farm supplies she’ll usually recommend they use only a light vinagarette dressing on our salad so the flavor can shine through.
Which reminds me of an old friend. He was a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy who lived in Silicon Valley, but ate well. A few years back, he asked us for a recommendation for a place to stay on Vancouver Island with a really good restaurant. We sent him to the Sooke Harbour House, an elegant little inn that raises a wide variety of salad greens in its own organic gardens.
Next time we saw our friend we asked him about the visit. He frowned. The place was beautiful and the food was fine, he said, “but they served us weeds in the salad.”
Ah well, you can’t please everyone. And times have certainly changed since our friend’s eating adventure. These days, if you spot Chickweed in your salad you are probably dining toward the top of the food chain. Good restaurants tend to boast about the number of weeds in their salad mix and salad texture and variety marks a place that cares. Every time we go out to eat, Rebecca dissects the salad like an oracle examining the entrails of an animal sacrifice. She can usually tell when and where the salad was picked and sometimes, who picked it
You can do it too. Keep your eyes open for some of these varieties:
Anise Hyssop adds an interesting combination of licorice and mint to a salad. Or this:
With Sorrel you get a bright, lemony tang. Or this:
Kale buds are sweet and add a lively chewiness to the mix.
Of course, none of this comes easy. If it did, and could be done by machines, those giant California farm outfits would be doing it. They’re not. It takes one of our interns about an hour to pick a pound of salad. Rebecca can do three pounds an hour, but she’s been doing it for two decades and seems to have gotten the hang of it. They all usually pick twice a week, rain or shine. When the weather gets warmer and sunnier we’ll be supplying at least four restaurants.
You can do the math yourself on this to figure out how much work is involved. We’re too bushed.