When Farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden expounds on the seasonal vegetables he grows at his farm, he does so with warmth, wonder, and gratitude. “Mother Nature provides a natural rhythm to what we should eat,” he says.

For over four decades, The Chef’s Garden, a family-owned regenerative farm located along the shores of Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio, has grown exceptional vegetables, supplying them to the world’s finest chefs and their restaurants, and inspiring a vegetable-forward future.

In April, when mesclun lettuces come in season, Farmer Lee remembers his work with legendary Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, who mentored the Jones family farm. “Charlie challenged us to look at lettuce and greens differently — to harvest them at different sizes and stages,” he explains. Mesclun, the name for a mix of tender salad greens and herbs, is derived from the French word “mesclar,” meaning “mixture.”

And for Farmer Lee, his mesclun mixture is a source of pride.

What makes Chef’s Garden mesclun special

The Chef’s Garden mesclun greens have a balanced, well-rounded flavor: slightly salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. The green, red, amber, chartreuse, lime, and magenta leaves are highly aromatic. Some mesclun leaves are crisp, some brittle; some are buttery, and others bite back.

“When we go out into the field in the morning, we look at the array of available greens and harvest them daily, including Asian greens, mizuna, tatsoi, and arugula,” Farmer Lee describes. “Our greens really are a reflection of a walk through our garden each morning!” he excitedly adds.

The contrasting textures, shapes, colors, and flavors that are the hallmark of a great mesclun lettuce mixture are described by Farmer Lee as “a party in your mouth!”

How to use mesclun lettuces

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Since mesclun leaves are tender, you should not sauté them like heartier greens, such as chard or kale. Instead, Farmer Lee says he loves to add these lettuces to a salad for flavor and texture. With lighter-bodied mesclun leaves, opt for a light vinaigrette rather than a heavy dressing; this allows the flavors of the greens to shine through.

“We eat three times a day, or more. Why not let it be exciting and fun?” Farmer Lee wonders.

For breakfast, use mesclun greens instead of spinach in a satisfying green smoothie, gently wilt them over low heat and fold into a frittata, or layer them in a sandwich. For lunch, blend mesclun greens with romaine hearts for a bed for tuna and eggs in a Niçoise salad. Or wilt mesclun greens into a vegetarian main course of wild rice with pears, cranberries, and blue cheese.

How to care for and store mesclun lettuces

When sourcing mesclun greens, look for crisp leaves and no brown edges. To keep them fresh longer, store them in a container lined with a damp paper towel and place them in the refrigerator, covered. Or wrap the leaves in a damp, clean tea towel.

Mesclun greens are best consumed within 48 hours and up to five days.

And here is a fun fact: Cutting or tearing mesclun greens up to 24 hours before consuming them may double their phytonutrients, plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Additionally, mesclun greens are excellent sources of vitamin A, C, and folate, all vital nutrients to support our bodies.

“I encourage people to eat and celebrate what’s in season!” Farmer Lee exclaims. “At Chef’s Garden, the crux of what we’re doing is about your palate, creating healthy soil, vegetables, healthy people, and a healthy environment, and always moving toward the next best thing that Mother Nature will be providing for us.”

See you in May, Farmer Lee, when your spinach bursts forth!

Photo: Michelle Demuth-Bibb/The Chef’s Garden

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Theresa Gambacorta is a freelance food writer, a veteran of New York City restaurants, and cookbook co-author to chef Joey Campanaro's Big Love Cooking (Chronicle) and James Beard-nominated chef Nasim Alikhani's Sofreh: A Contemporary Approach to Classic Persian Cuisine (Knopf). She is currently working on a forthcoming vegan cookbook to be published by Simon Element.

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