Claire’s 18th Century Garden: Monstrueux De Viroflay Spinach

March 25, 2014 in 18th Century Garden, How Does Your Garden Grow? by M C

ltgreenredIt’s Good For You

And tasty too.

Monstrueux De Viroflay Spinach SeedSpinach pops up in Europe in the 1300s, likely coming from Spanish traders who in turn brought it from Asian and Mediterranean sources. it’s growth pattern, which makes it one of the first vegetables to appear in the spring, made it very popular, and it appears in one of the first known English cookbooks, The Forme of Cury published in 1390. The varieties we’re familiar with today started appearing around the mid 1500s, and were popularized by Catherine de’ Medici who was so enamored of the vegetable she insisted it be served at every meal. To this day, dishes made with spinach are known as “Florentine”, reflecting Catherine’s birthplace.

This is a vegetable Claire would have appreciated, as a WWII nurse, for its history and nutritional properties. Spinach is high in iron, calcium, vitamin A, C, E and vitamin K (which is thought to aide in clotting). In WWI wine was fortified with spinach juice and given to French soldiers weakened by hemorrhaging.

The Monstrueux De Viroflay is a great old variety dating back to the mid 1800’s in France, which is a little later than our target 18th Century garden, but was chosen as an unusual heirloom variety with great flavor fresh or cooked with unusually large leaves that get up to 10” long.  The variety is a fast producer that will do well in the fall for early winter harvests.

For a fall harvest, these heirloom seeds can be directly sown into well tilled garden soil or your window box.  For best results it is very important to keep soil evenly moist with regular light waterings.

When direct seeding,  plant these  seeds 1-2″ apart.  Once they have shown several true leaves, and are about 4″ tall, thin to final spacing, about 12″ apart, in rows 18″ apart (or if planted in a block, about 10″ apart around).  Harvest straight through hard freezes by protecting with a row cover (Claire would have used straw, brush, or old sheets to protect her plants as long as possible).  Well mulched spinach can winter over, and pop right back up again in the spring as one of the first greens out of the garden but Claire would have carefully dug some of her spinach plants and wintered them over in a cold place, replanting them tightly together in the spring so she could collect seeds from the plants after they’d bolted.

Spinach, chard, and beets, however, will cross pollinate, so Claire would have been careful to plant them far apart if she was saving seed, or in different vegetable plots.

1 FREE Audiobook RISK-FREE from AudiblePlanting a garden is more fun when you’re listening to Davina Porter reading the Outlander series.. in fact, I can trace my obsession with the 18th century to Outlander, bought on because it was the most listening bang for the buck.. over 40 hours of book will weed a lot of garden. The whole series? Will have you producing most of your own vegetables in no time!

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