Winter can feel sad in the potager at Tyrannell. Growth is slow and the harvest is largely restricted to the hardier brassicas and roots. However, there beneath the snow the land cress is quietly thriving, along with lambs lettuce.
Back in summer, while the lettuces were still romping away, I sowed seeds of Land Cress, sometimes known as American Cress, and a neglected plant of Lamb’s Lettuce ran to seed and sowed itself. Now, in the depths of winter and even under the snowfall of mid January, they are still green and lush; a very welcome addition to sandwiches and cold cuts.
Lamb’s Lettuce is also known as Corn Salad, because it commonly grows in fields of cultivated grain throughout mainland Europe. It is called Mâche in France, where it covers the bare vineyard soils through winter time and Nüssli in Switzerland – apparently because it is thought to have a nutty taste, which I confess that I hadn’t noticed!
Most pleasing of all, its German name is Rapunzel. Clearly, this was the salad for which the unfortunate mother had a craving while expecting the hirsute girl.
Lamb’s Lettuce grows very well in mid Wales and I confess a liking for the name, especially now that the lambs are beginning to arrive. It is a sweet, soft, leafy rosette which is best picked small, washed gently and served simply with cheese or sliced meat.
Land Cress is an equally useful plant. It is related to watercress and tastes very similar but is much easier to grow. It is rather sulky in the warmer months – but then, there is plenty of other salad to enjoy. However, from a late summer sowing great rosettes will grow, slowly and continuously, until now in February they are the size of a dinner plate.
It has a hot, spicy flavour and a crisp texture – a good contrast to the Lambs Lettuce or an excellent companion to ham in a sandwich. Smaller stems can be eaten whole, larger ones are more stringy so pull off the leaflets.
These two brave little plants clearly enjoy the conditions in my potager. I’ll make sure that there is a good supply every winter from now on to enliven the diet of the cold months.