Valley Bounty: Mache

Last month, a wind storm swept across the Valley and at Blossoming Acres Farm in Southwick, the massive gusts ripped the plastic roof off their winter-growing greenhouse. I recently spoke with Katie Hamberg, who has worked on the farm for over a decade. She explained that as soon as they saw the damage, the team rushed to cover the beds with a cloth row cover called Reemay®. Frost damage can set in quickly and after months of tending to their cold-weather crops, the team had no intention of losing that work just before the early-spring harvest.

One of the crops at risk on that blustery day was mache, a cold hearty green also known as corn salad. Katie and the team planted their mache into the unheated greenhouse late last autumn. The plants got established just before the hard frosts hit, then the waiting game began. During the cold of deep winter, mache will only grow on bright sunny days when the temperature inside the greenhouse inches upwards. Throughout the cold nights, the plant’s only job is to survive. Katie often can’t even water the crop for fear that it will freeze on the leaves, but with a cold tolerance that stretches into sub-zero temperatures, mache has what it takes to weather a New England winter.

Although the tender green isn’t a common offering in most grocery stores, mache has been part of American diets for centuries. Records show that it was a mainstay in Thomas Jefferson’s salads, picked fresh from the gardens at Monticello. At Blossoming Acres, the team’s swift action to cover the mache and repair the greenhouse prevented the frigid winds from killing the crop. That means that Blossoming Acres, along with farmers throughout the Valley, will be bringing mache to farmers’ markets across the state while the harvest lasts through April. Katie told me that mache’s mild, nutty flavor makes it an excellent complement for the stronger flavors of other early season crops. She enjoys a spring salad of mache, mustard greens, arugula, roasted beets, walnuts, and a hardboiled egg, all tossed with balsamic vinaigrette.

Valley Bounty is written by Noah Baustin of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)