I secretly harbour a little dream; that one day, when you arrive for your Sunday Table lunch, I will greet you at the doorway, perfectly groomed, elegant and poised, and not at all wind tousled or garden ruffled with bits of nasturtium in my hair.
But that would mean not spending the half hour before you arrive on my knees in the garden snipping and picking delicious little leaves and discreetly hurling tiny snails over my shoulder. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that good salad trumps good hair.
Being very pretty and very delicious, our salads get a lot of attention during Sunday Table lunches, and I get a lot of questions about how we do it. But apart from being a little time consuming to pick (but utterly worth every second, hair notwithstanding) the plants involved are embarrassingly easy to grow, and with just a blanket sized patch of earth to work with, you can keep yourself in salad year round without doing much at all.
The secret is to choose plants that will happily self seed, a mix of summer and winter active is ideal, and then let them do as they please. Mostly. Borage should never be allowed to do as she pleases, for she will quickly smother her neighbours with her bulk and force of will. So yes, a bit of judicious weeding and thinning will help. And, if you are lucky, a few local edible weeds such as mallow or dandelions will round things out for you. If you join us for lunch when things are seeding, I’ll happily send you home with a brown paper bag full of seed heads, but otherwise many tasty and useful self seeders can be found as seedlings at a good nursery (say CERES for Melbournians) or you can buy seeds for these and many other lovely things besides through Eden Seeds, The Italian Gardener (worth a visit to check out all those amazing basils and chicories) and Diggers.
The delicious little leaves and bursts of flavour in our weedy, flowery salads at the moment include (from left to right in the picture above): mustard leaves for a wasabi like whoosh, calendula, the first of the wild rocket, Apollo rocket flowers, borage flowers and leaves, baby cime di rapa, fennel tops, nasturtium leaves and flowers, baby chard and beetroot leaves, coriander tips and flowers, purple mizuna, wild sorrel for an intense and juicy citrus-y burst, and parsley tips. It won’t be long before basil, purslane and dill appear; the essential ingredients for refreshing, tangy, spirit lifting summer salads.
It’s a wonderful thing that the two easiest things to grow when space is limited or the mind is elsewhere are garlic and greens – the very two things that make the biggest difference to the taste of the food that you cook and eat, and that can never be matched, no matter how hard anyone tries, by food that comes through commerical channels.
So here’s to delicate leaves and flowery weeds – and I’ll wear the bad hair, any day.
In other news, if you are looking for a way to use that surplus borage that you have heartlessly but necessarily evicted from your salad patch, check out this month’s Country Style magazine for my borage ravioli recipe! It’s an old fave around here, and gets even better as the summer warms up and the flavour in the borage leaves intensifies.