Once you move away from limp iceberg and start offering customers fresh and flavoursome leaves in their salad bags you open up a whole can of worms (Well - not literally. Well - hopefully not at all). The first reaction from customers is to comment on how long the leaves stay fresh in the fridge. One customer came rushing up to me and said that she had had her bag in the fridge for 9 days and it was good as new. Whilst I smiled externally, internally I was mulling over why, if she liked it so much, it hadn't occurred to her to eat it! The second reaction is the look. Every single one of our salads arrives at its destination on the day that it is picked - even if that day starts before 5 and finishes at 10! The leaves are hand picked, in small batches, and brought in quickly to be washed. Our salads are a riot of colour and most are finished with edible flowers. I like to think that the three years that I spent at art college weren't a complete waste of time and I am really lucky that the people that work with me pay the same attention to detail to ensuring that the salads look beautiful. So many people eat with their eyes and comment on how lovely the salad bags look. However, the overwhelming reaction from people is because of the flavours. I strongly believe that this is partly due to the fact that we are certified organic and therefore the product is as natural as it gets. I also think that allowing leaves to develop at their own pace, rather than being forced, allows the flavours to mature. Growing in season also affects this tremendously. That being said however, the over riding reason for the flavour hit is the amount of different leaves that we pack into our salads. Throughout the year we grow: 11 varieties of lettuce; 5 of chicory; 5 of spinach & beets; 3 of cress; 3 of rocket; 6 of mustard; 2 of peas; 13 of herbs and about 6 non classifiable bits and pieces that just should be in there. There are also wild pickings which make their way into the bags and the list increases each year. Picking, washing, bagging and distributing these leaves by hand and quickly means that often the salads are eaten on the same day and the people become quite obsessional about the aromatic and fresh flavours. More and more frequently I send boxes of mixed leaves overnight to London and further afield.
This reaction can go two ways of course. It is not usual for people to come up to me at the Farmers' Market, with a small plastic bags containing a particular leaf which they would like identified as they either love it (and want to grow it) or hate it. Chefs phone wanting 300 pieces of 'that little pink or white leaf' for a garnish for a particular dish. Pet loves and hates include those leaves with a strong aniseed flavour such as chervil, fennel or dill; another reaction comes from the really hot mustards - one chef (who shall remain nameless) asked me to increase the percentage of spicy leaves to accompany a steak dish and he then phoned me at 10 at night laughing to suggest that we needed to tame it down a bit as a man had gone purple eating Giant Red Mustard in his restaurant. Lambs Lettuce can evoke a strong response more because of the texture than the flavour. However the most hotly debated of the salad ingredients is Coriander - it is definitely the marmite of the salad world. People genuinely either love it or hate it. I love it and can't see that it has a particuarly strong or offensive flavour but quite a few customers order Herb Salad 'but hold the coriander'. It is also one that we are quite often asked to leave out of a wedding mix. We are lucky in that we are still (and intend to remain) a small and personal company which hand picks everything to order. My large black order book specifies what goes in each mix so that customers can choose exactly what they would like but who would have thought that the humble salad could evoke such strong reactions?