Where does dinner come from? Well, some of it comes from the grocery store, and, if you’re lucky to live on a farm like she does, some of it comes from right outside your door. The farm she lives on provides the owners and farmhands (my friends) with organic and humanely grown meat, and organic vegetables.My friend just waltzes out to the greenhouse (I so wish) to cut some greens for a salad, and comes back in with a bowl of the cutest, spade-shaped variety of spinach I’ve ever seen…except, it’s not spinach. I’m embarrassed to ask what it is. Think, think! I should know this! “Its claytonia”, she replies.
Claytonia? She explains that claytonia is a salad green that grows well in the cooler months and re-seeds itself readily (weed!). It has a mild taste, so is excellent for tempering bitter salad greens like arugula or endive. Claytonia even stands up to boiling or sautéing. After running the leaves under the water, I ask if I should cut the long stems off before throwing the leaves into the salad bowl, and she says, “Nah.”
Naturally, I did a little pokin’ around on the computer when I got back home, and found that claytonia is native to North America, and grows throughout the West Coast. One of its common names is miner’s lettuce, due to the fact that during the Gold Rush, miners gathered this winter groundcover and used it as a source of vitamin C to stave of scurvy when other plants were scarce. The basal leaves (lower leaves) are spade-shaped (like my pictures), but the cauline leaves (borne on a stem) circle the stem and look entirely different.
My friend sent me home with a large bag of claytonia. I fixed a fresh salad of claytonia, dried figs and shavings of Parmigiano cheese. You might want to trim the stems a little, on second thought. When left on the long side, the stems stick out your mouth, making for a potentially embarrassing dinner when amongst certain people. Also, my cat stalked my meal just waiting for one of the green “strings” to jump off the plate. She’s not a people-food lover, so there was no confusion about her motive.
Keep an eye out, and I bet claytonia will appear in a salad of mixed greens when dining out – especially since many restaurants are now designing their entire menus to follow seasonal and local produce. You can, then, smugly point out the claytonia to your dinner guest, and not confuse it with “cute” spinach like I did.