I’d never heard of it until a few years ago either. If it weren’t for my avid gardener husband, I’d probably still be munching away on store-bought red-leaf lettuce indifferent to my plight. Orach, simply put, is a different sort of salad green. It’s a cross between spinach and arugula to my taste buds.
We discovered it at Monticello in a cute little white package of seeds in the store. Bill bought it because it was marketed as Thomas Jefferson’s favorite salad green. He planted some the next season and it’s been in our garden ever since. We happen to have been growing Green Orach, though other varieties exist. We had meandered around the outside of Monticello because the tour inside had a very long line and we had a young Eli in hand. We feared for the precious things inside the famed building and how they would fare at the hands of a grumpy child.
We spent our time there outside and in the shop contemplating the obvious dichotomies Jefferson’s life must have held. I don’t really want to get too philosophical here. The fact that the store did not even sell “The Jefferson Bible” rather irked me. But, hey, we were there to have fun and look at the gardens.
And boy…are they tidy and organized! Ours is not nearly so extensive. Of course we don’t have to feed so many people either. One of the things that strikes me now as I do some research into the gardens at Monticello is the variety. We are kidding ourselves if we think our modern supermarkets have “variety.” With the help of heirloom seed companies, our lettuce patch has a real variety of lettuces that you won’t find at Whole Foods, let alone a Safeway.
In 1819 Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that … as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.” His 1,000-foot-long kitchen garden terrace was an experimental laboratory where he cultivated seventy different species and 250 varieties of vegetables. Although he loved fine fancy fruit, the ornamental “pet trees” that graced his mountaintop home, and a variety of flowers, the vegetable garden, because of its sublime posture overlooking the rolling Piedmont Virginia countryside and its dramatic scale and scope, was Jefferson’s chief horticultural achievement at Monticello.
Did you read that? 250 varieties of vegetables. I’m betting Americans are generally hard-pressed to even name 250 varieties of veggies let alone say they’ve tasted them. The FDA suggests Americans eat two and a half cups of veggies every day. It’s easy to do when you have a variety of tasty greens. If you don’t grow them yourself, though, you are stuck with what’s carried by your local store and farmer’s markets.
Last night we had a salad made with orach and arugula from the garden. I tossed it in a simple dressing made with walnut oil, champagne vinegar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. We added our own spoonfuls of avocado and mango for a strikingly colorful salad. Two varieties of lettuce and two fruits. It was pretty to look at and tasty to eat. The picture shows our orach and arugula moments before being tossed for dinner. Mmmmm…