Sunday, April 8, 2007

Edible Dianthus: Salads in the Pink

We are celebrating our first homegrown salad!!

The mesclun lettuce mix that I sowed not so long ago has grown till the tray is overflowing. I'm not sure what size the leaves should be when ready to harvest, but after waiting as long as I could hold out, I got scissors and harvested a whole flat (the flats are smallish). I'm not even sure how to do that, so I basically gave all the lettuces a "haircut." The leaves were 5 to 6 inches long, but they had small shoots at the base of each set of leaves, so I was wanting to see if I could harvest the bigger leaves and still allow the other small leaves to mature further.

I'm wondering if, since this was a mix, the longest leaves were all one sort of lettuce and the others were farther behind. Most of what I picked were smooth and oval green leaves with a taste mildly of lemony spinach. Whatever it was, it was good!

I washed the leaves and let them dry between paper toweling...we harvested a big salad bowlful. I harvested some of the smaller of the lemon balm leaves and also dianthus flowerheads from the four dianthus we have.

I originally bought the dianthus, also known by the old-fashioned term "pinks," as small starter plants to plant between peppers last fall in order to attract pollinators. I'd never tried them as such, and wanted to plant other flowers in addition to marigolds. I really wasn't sure they'd survive the heat, or the winter, but they really got their second wind a month or so ago and have been blooming and blooming. When the peppers were long gone, the dianthus were still going strong.

Their tenacity and bright blooms led me to investigate the dianthus online. It's in the carnation family of flowers, except that the blooms are much smaller. The blooms are also edible, which surprised me. As starry and fringed bursts of color, they really add beauty to salads, their carmine, white, and fuschia splashes as beautiful as they are tasty. Ours taste mild and fragrant. It's described as clove-like, which I'd say is fairly accurate. My husband really likes the taste, which I found surprising.

I wasn't sure how to add a dianthus bloom to a dish, so I harvested them right at the bases of the individual blooms, one bloom at a time, and washed them gently in cool water. After drying in paper toweling, I pinched the base of the bloom off along with the enclosed white tips, which separates the petals. They separate into individual petals which are triangular and fringed at the broad bloom end. The colors are vivid and the effect when tossed among fresh salad leaves, is transforming. Suddenly a plain salad LOOKS like a show-stopper, and knowing all the ingredients are homegrown and organic rounds out the pleasure of the taste-testing!

The pinched-off ends are tougher, but I'm thinking they might be used as a caper-like condiment if pickled. If I do many more, I might try that and see.

Our first salad (EVER...Hoorayyy!!!) was a dewy toss of fresh-picked mesclun, dianthus, and minced lemon balm. YUM... :) With a touch of vinaigrette, it was a celebration!

Pictures from these links:


Willa said...

Congratulations- isn't it exciting! Are your dianthus the annual kind, or the perineal? (I can never spell that right, and it's such a touchy word!) Anyway- I have some beautiful perineal ones on the fron sidewalk- maybe we'll try them in a salad. They smell so wonderful when we walk out the front door, but I never in a million years would have thought of eating them.

I'm starting to think of salad greens, so I know spring is coming. I'm very seasonal in what I crave, and I can hardly bear the thought of a sald in the winter, for example. But lately I've been thinking about greens. It's been so cold an rainy, I haven't been able to get my lettuces in the ground. Today I was actually thinking of doing them inside under lights.

Anyway, congratulations on the salad, it sounds pretty yummy.

Robbyn said...

Hi Willa!

I think these dianthus are perrenial, but since we're in Florida a lot of plants that are annuals elsewhere overwinter here pretty well. That said, though, I still think these were listed as perrenials. When I looked online, it didn't distinguish between either when it stated they are edible, so you may want to do a simple Google search. I don't think it matters, but don't take my word for it.

I keep looking at your progressive pics of the flowerbed where you plant your hollyhocks. It won't be long before they're going to town again, there, will it? :) They're really so mom used to grow some near a little shed in the backyard in one of the locations where we lived when I was growing up, and the cat always had her kittens right under that shed.

Since I gave my lettuce flat a "haircut" the reddish smaller leaves are really shooting up. Maybe I should have waited till they were ALL bigger before harvesting? This is a first for me :)

Let me know if you try your flowers...there are many other edibles that are really pretty and easy to grow. Yum!

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

I love dianthus Robbyn! We had bunches of different varieties when we lived in Texas. For some reason I have never "collected" them again---maybe because the nurseries here don't offer as many varieties and I forget when I mail order. However it is they smell soooo good though don't they! Yummy! Who wants to eat them---I just want to smell them. :-)