Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking

Savoring Spinach (page 2 of 4)

by Ellen Ogden

Spinach Specifics

The very best spinach comes from your own garden, where you can harvest the leaves at their prime. You can grow a variety of spinach types to fit your cooking needs. Spinach cultivars are divided into three groups by leaf type: savoy (wrinkled leaf), semi-savoy and smooth. Selecting the right type of spinach for a recipe is as important as knowing the difference between baking and boiling potatoes.

Savoy-leafed varieties, such as 'Indian Summer' and 'Winter Bloomsdale', are the kinds most commonly grown here in the U.S. They tend to be hardy, disease-resistant and tolerant of summer heat. Savoyed types also produce more food per unit of space, since their leaves have more surface area and the plants tend to grow larger.

Smooth- or round-leafed spinach varieties, such as 'Space' and 'Vienna', are more common in Italy and other European countries. These types produce broader, more tender leaves but are more likely to bolt (form a seed stalk) in hot weather. They're the best spinach for salads, for very fresh, tender salad greens and for freezing. Semi-savoy kinds, suc as 'Melody' and 'Tyee', combine some of the traits of each. 'Melody', for example, is an upright spinach with large thick leaves and a good yield. 'Tyee' is the most bolt-resistant of the semi-savoy types, and it has a more upright growth habit. It lasts a week longer than 'Indian Summer' without bolting.

Growing Spinach

Preparing a spot for spinach in the garden is best done in the fall so that, come spring, you can sow the seeds outdoors as soon as the ground thaws. Or, if you live where winters are mild, you can prepare soil and plant in fall.

For the best crop, you'll need a well-manured, well-worked loamy soil in sun or partial shade that has a pH of 6.4 to 6.8. We plant our first spring crop on the outside of our three-foot-wide pea beds.

Spinach grows quickly, increasing in yield right up to the full heat of summer. When daily temperatures go above 70&deg F, spinach goes to seed in a hurry. For a continuous supply, we plant weekly from April 15th until a few weeks before the ground freezes. In hot regions, stick to spring and fall sowings or grow some spinach substitutes.

Once the seedlings appear, thin plants to four to six inches apart and provide plenty of water to produce succulent leaves and slow down bolting. Mulching around the rows will help keep the soil cool and prevent rain splatter.

The recipes listed here are my family's favorites, and they've received rave reviews from guests and friends as well. Use these ideas as a starting point to create your own spinach repertoire.

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