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Mâche is a leafy green which comes in two distinct cultivars: shell and blonde. Depending on the cultivar, mâche may have small scooped leaves which are dark green and almost velvety in texture, or the leaves may be elongated and pale green. Both varietals are used in both raw and cooked forms in European cuisine, where this green is quite popular. Many European markets stock mâche when it is in season in the spring, and it can sometimes be found in other regions as well. If you have difficulty tracking down a reliable source, you can also try your hand at growing mâche.
This green is also sometimes called “lamb's lettuce,” which may be a reference to the fact that it tastes best during the spring lambing season. It is probably also a favored food of sheep, although this could be said about many greens, of course. Mâche is in the valerian family, which includes a large number of herbs and shrubs, many of which have been under cultivation for centuries. Many plants in this family are believed to have medicinal value.
Europeans have been cultivating and eating mâche for centuries. This plant grows in the form of a rosette of leaves which tends to cling close to the ground. It favors temperate climates best, and it is infamous for bolting to seed in hot climates. Raw, mâche can be used in salads and combined with other greens, and it can also be added to soups, stews, sauteed dishes, and so forth, depending on personal taste.
High quality mâche has very tender leaves and a mild flavor. If you are selecting mâche at the store, look for crisp specimens with no drooping or discolored leaves. Make sure to rinse mâche before use, and try to use it within a few days, as it does not keep well, even under refrigeration. To prolong the life of mâche a little longer, you can try sticking the stem ends in a glass of water and covering it loosely in plastic.
If you want to grow mâche, plant seeds in a sunny spot in the garden with deep, well drained soil in the early spring. You may want to amend the soil with sand to ensure that it stays loose. Mâche likes lots of light and moderate water, and the seeds will mature into usable greens within a month or so. If you don't have a lot of space, mâche takes well to container gardening in pots or windowboxes. Some people also have success growing mâche indoors, as long as they have well lit spots with good air circulation.