What On God’s Green Earth Is Mesclun?
Some folks think that it’s some kind of illegal hallucinogenic drug that hippies consumed back in the 1970’s.
Oh wait – that was mescaline – so, that’s a lot different!
Mescaline is a derivative of the Peyote Cactus – usually coming from the little buttons growing on the cactus – and, it is used in religious ceremonies by some indigenous North American Indians. But, it got and hijacked by the hippie movement for their own enjoyment.
No – this is “mesclun.” The name is derived from the word, “mesclar” – coming from the French Provincal dialect in southeastern France. The verb, mesclar, means to “mix thoroughly” – so, it is a “mixture” of sorts – mixing up a bunch of salad greens for a myriad of taste sensations.
The word, mesclun, didn’t even get into the North American Webster’s Dictionary until 1976.
And, that is exactly what mesclun is…
What Kind Of Mesclun Would You Like To Try?
Mesclun is a mixture of various types of lettuces and other green leafy type vegetables to create a symphony of various flavors – making the common everyday salad an exquisite masterpiece of culinary delight!
A given mix of mesclun may contain any combination of the following:
- Arugula – Also known as garden rocket or rocket salad. It has a distinctly fresh peppery flavor.
- Baby Spinach – Offering a milder and slightly sweeter taste than normal everyday spinach.
- Bok Choy – Known, too, as Japanese spinach, bok choy has a bit of a bitter taste – but milder than mustard greens.
- Bull’s Blood Beet – These leaves are the deepest reddish purple I’ve ever seen. And, as the plant matures, the colors only get more pronounced. The leaves are tender, crunchy, and a little sweeter than radicchio.
- Chervil – Even though it tastes like basil, chervil looks like parsley and is often called French parsley.
- Dandelion Greens – These greens offer up a pleasantly bitter taste very much like endive or radicchio.
- Endive – Commonly called chicory or frisée, it has frizzy leaves which are crunchy and a little bitter when eaten raw. Cooking endive mellows it out and may even sweeten it up a tad.
- Mâche – A French salad green also called corn salad or Lamb’s lettuce. It has a creamy, sweet, nutty flavor.
- Mizuna – These “Japanese mustard greens” are tangy and peppery – but not quite as much as arugula. The flavor has a mild mustard taste.
- Mustard Greens – Mustard greens have a peppery tang and – well – surprise – surprise – they taste like mustard!
- Radicchio – Frequently referred to as Italian chicory, radicchio looks a lot like red cabbage – but, its leaves are thinner and tenderer – and it has a daringly bitter flavor.
- Sorrel – If you’ve ever eaten a typically sour Granny apple, you will know what to expect when you bite into sorrel leaves.
- Swiss Chard – Its leaves have a slightly bitter taste – similar to regular spinach or beet leaves. The stalks are a bit sweeter – similar to bok choy stems.
- Tatsoi – This dark green Asian lettuce – with spoon shaped leaves – has a taste in the same ballpark with mustard greens and collards.
- Tendergreen Mustard – This is a cross between mustard greens and spinach – very mild flavored.
- Upland Cress – As thin and tender as baby watercress, these “creasy greens” have a pungent, peppery flavor.
- Other selections of red loose leaf lettuce.
- Other selections of green loose leaf lettuce or spinach.
Some Great Mesclun Varieties
I prefer the Burpee assortments because they have a much higher germination rate. Mesclun mixes look absolutely beautiful in the garden. You could plant them as ornamentals in your front yard – in concert with your flowers and bushes!
Mesclun leaves and stems grow fairly quickly and are normally ready for pickin’ after a month or so of growin’ in the garden.
Spicy Mix – Combines equal quantities of seeds for arugula, endive, radicchio, mustard, and red loose leaf lettuce. Even though this mesclun mix is very tangy and spicy, I still add a few drops of Tabasco to it. It sets my mouth on fire and I love it!
Sweet Salad Mix – Tender, mildly flavored, colorful greens with a wide range of seeds for red colors – Ruby lettuce, Bull’s Blood beet) – and bright green colors – Simpson lettuce, Tendergreen mustard, and Bloomsdale spinach.
Classic Mix (Organic) – This really is a classic mix with some sweet lettuce and some tangy greens. You’ll have arugula, chervil, endive, mâche, and 4 different lettuces – Oak Leaf, Prizeleaf, Green Ice, and Red Salad Bowl. To top it off, there is also radicchio and upland cress – a real hodge podge of beauty and flavor!
Provencal Mix – This mix gets its name from the Provence region in southeastern France. It combines seeds for chervil, arugula, endive, and tender leaf lettuce. This mix is customarily served in the finest restaurants in southern France.
Making A Mesclun Mix To Be Proud Of
We’re going to grow meclun the same way we would grow any lettuce. Full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours a day – partial afternoon shade is acceptable and, actually, preferred – to keep the greens from overheating if they are growing during the hot, humid midsummer months.
Start seeding the garden as soon as possible after the last frost in the spring. Since these greens grow so fast, you can start a new section of them every couple of weeks and have a multitude of produce all the way up until the first frost in the fall.
- Make sure that you till the ground to loosen up the soil.
- Make a furrow about three quarters of an inch deep.
- Add a half inch layer of Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture to the channel.
- Sprinkle a thin line of mesclun seeds down the length.
- Cover with a quarter inch of Jim’s soil mixture.
- Water well – and after the seedlings begin popping up, make sure they get about an inch of water per week. I suggest getting a good rain gauge to help you make sure your plants get enough water.
- Add some soaker hoses to make watering as easy as a walk in the park.
- When the seedlings get a couple inches high, start thinning them out by grabbing some leaves for an occasional salad. Everything will grow better and fuller if the plants still in the ground are at least 3 or 4 inches apart.
- Add some mulch around the plants to hold in moisture, keep the soil cool, and discourage weed growth.
And, there you have it. Sit back and watch your salad take on its colorful shape.
Most of the plants in a mesclun mix will re-sprout after you clip their leaves – giving you some new foliage to harvest in about 3 weeks.
If the plants start to “go to seed” and get flowers, even the sweetest flavored ones will begin to turn bitter. That’s the time to pull the entire plant, and salvage as much of the greens as possible for your table.
Controlling Pests And Diseases
Aphids are the main pesky enemy of leafy plants. Knock them out with some Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer.
Fungal diseases like downy mildew and powdery mildew attack the plants most often when they don’t have a chance to dry from an overhead watering – be it rain or hose sprinkler. Nip them in the bud with some Daconil or Physan 20.
Marty’s Friend Starts A New Business
Marty’s friend, Betsy, opened a new store recently. To congratulate her, Marty asked me to stop by and have Frank, the florist, send a suitable arrangement of flowers to Betsy with a nice card attached.
Well, Betsy got the flowers – with a card signed, “From Marty.” The kicker is that the card also said, “Rest in Peace.”
Understandably annoyed, Betsy called Marty and scolded her over the “tacky” inscription on the card. Needless to say, when Marty called me to complain about it, I got the worst end of the stick. (You know what always rolls downhill – and picks up speed!)
Anyway, I headed over to Frank’s Florist Shoppe and told him that it was his fault that I was in the doghouse! Frank checked the order and immediately turned white as a sheet. He realized that he had mixed Marty’s order up with another one for a funeral that was taking place.
So, the card on the flowers that went to the funeral had a note saying, “Congratulations on your new location!”
I guess I wasn’t the only one having a bad day!
Comment below or email me with your thoughts, questions, ideas, and anything else you want to talk about!
Jim, the Lifelong Gardener