Cool Season Garden Fresh Salad
Salads were an important part of Jefferson’s diet; he engineered his famous vegetable garden so that he could cultivate salad greens and dressings year-round even through the somewhat unpredictable, sometimes unforgiving Virginia climate. He records in his garden notes planting several cool-season greens such as orach, endive, and nasturtiums, all of which graced Monticello’s dinner table during the winter months. Monticello salads probably included a mixed bouquet of greens which were gathered early in the morning, laid in cold water or laid on ice to ensure freshness, and removed just before dinner was served.
The late winter and early spring months are the perfect time to plant your own cool season garden fresh salad. Several cool season greens do not require much garden space to flourish and grow very well in containers. Additionally, a mix of varieties may be grown at once within a small space, making a windowbox the perfect mini-garden for your fresh garden salad. The Shop’s Natural Willow Windowbox and Natural Willow Veggie Planter are a stylish and effective way to grow herbs and salad greens in a compact space.
So, what does a cool season garden fresh salad look like? The Shop at Monticello offers a variety of cool season salad greens and vegetable seeds that are perfect for growing in your backyard or windowsill garden.
Step 1: Start with your base greens
Arugula makes for a nice base green, and its tangy flavor adds zest to a basic salad or sandwich. The green was important in early American diets for its nutrients and flavor and can be used in salads or mixed into pasta and rice dishes. It grows best in cool weather and grows quickly, making it a cool season garden staple.
Spotted Aleppo salad lettuce is an heirloom variety of lettuce that was grown in colonial America and remained popular until the 1870s. Its bronzy-red speckled leaves mark it as one of the more distinct varieties of lettuce, and its ability to withstand cool temperatures makes it a cool-season garden staple. Spotted Aleppo is a tender and flavorful base green that supports and enhances the flavors of your favorite fresh garnishments.
The Prickly-seeded spinach is a smooth and triangular-leaved spinach that continues to grow over a long growing season. Records indicate that Thomas Jefferson sowed this variety of spinach in 1809 and 1812 as both a spring and fall crop. Spinach has been long regarded as an extremely healthy substitute for traditional lettuce, and tastes great eaten raw or cooked into other dishes.
Brown Dutch lettuce is believed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite lettuce variety. It was sowed twenty-seven times in the Monticello Kitchen Garden between 1809 and 1824. The lettuce yields large, floppy outer leaves with a reddish tinge. It is best sowed in very early spring, making the months of February and March the perfect time to plant them in your cool season garden!
Step 2: Garnish with flavor
For a pop of color and flavor, cultivate Early Scarlet Globe radish seeds in your cool season garden. Radishes were regularly grown in the Monticello Kitchen Garden for use in salads and other vegetable dishes. It is a nineteenth-century variety noted for its bright scarlet skin and crisp white flesh.
Nasturtiums are an edible, flowering plant that will brighten up any basic salad. They were grown in Jefferson’s kitchen garden and later became a staple in nineteenth century ornamental gardens. Both the nasturtium flower and leaf may be used as unique garnishments on your cool season salad. Jefferson also liked to use nasturtium seeds as capers when the pods were young.
Of his entire repertoire of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, the garden pea was one of Jefferson’s favorite plants. Garden peas enjoy cool, moist growing conditions; at Monticello, gardeners sow the Tom Thumb Pea in the beginning of March for a crop in early May.
Step 3: Dress for Success
Dining at Monticello reports, “Jefferson annually imported olive oil for its use at Monticello and saw ‘sallad-oil’ as ‘necessary of life,’ noting ‘what a number of vegetables are rendered eatable by the aid of a little oil.’” Surviving recipes of Monticello salad dressings indicate that Jefferson often combined garden herbs with oils and vinaigrettes for a simple yet savory dressing. Many herbs grow well during the cool season, particularly thyme, sage, sesame, and fennel. One of Jefferson’s recipes entitled “To Dress Salad” leaves room for the inclusion of a variety of herbs and greens according to the season. The only ingredients needed are vinegar, pepper, salt, and olive oil.
“To Dress Salad”- adapted from Dining at Monticello
- Put the vinegar, a small pinch of salt, and several generous grindings of pepper in a salad bowl and beat with a fork until the salt is dissolved.
- Gradually beat in about 6 tablespoons of olive oil, a little at a time, in a steady thin stream, beating constantly until emulsified. Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, and oil as needed.
- Add the greens and herbs to the dressing and toss lightly to coat. Taste and adjust the seasonings again, toss.