Cologne Corn Salad

Ark of taste
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Kölner Palm

The arrival of common corn salad in Germany, together with grain, can be traced back to the Neolithic Period. The term “corn salad” refers to the fact that it frequently grows wild in and around grain fields, where it was harvested as wild lettuce in the fall, winter and early spring. It was probably not until after 1700 that it was cultivated in gardens and selectively bred to become a Central European crop. In Germany, wild plants were still harvested for a long time after that. The Kölner Palm variety (Valerianella eriocarpa Desv. cv. Kölner Palm) is an old cultivar of the Ville region, a ridge that remained when the Cologne Bight receded. Conditions for the intensive cultivation of fruits and vegetables on the eastern slope of the Ville upland facing the Rhine valley are favorable thanks to the slope’s sheltered position and rich loess cover.
Kölner Palm, a corn salad with light green, oblong and rabbit ear-shaped leaves, is characterized by its low susceptibility to plant diseases such as mildew. Furthermore, it flowers three weeks later than other varieties. This makes it particularly attractive for spring use following winter cultivation, both for direct marketing and domestic gardens.

In modern times, corn salad had been rarely cultivated commercially due to the expense of its labor-intensive harvesting. Today, the seedlings are started in the greenhouse and planted mechanically. The considerably larger resulting plants are thus easier to harvest. A further factor is that modern F1 hybrids produce more reliable yields than old open-pollinated varieties such as Kölner Palm, which therefore no longer play a role in commercial cultivation.

Currently, Kölner Palm is only available as seed. Biohof Bursch, a Demeter biodynamic farm in Bornheim, is considering adding Kölner Palm to its range.

According to the Master’s thesis of Claude Petit at the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Bonn (January 14, 2015), Kölner Palm was “cultivated primarily in the southern upland at the beginning of the 20th century. It was sown on vacant plots from late July throughout the fall. A further sowing could then be carried out in early spring. Corn salad frequently preceded early potatoes, peas, carrots, kohlrabi, lettuce, early radishes and broad beans, or followed beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and late cabbage in the crop rotation.”

Kölner Palm is considerably tastier than today’s greenhouse-grown and heavily fertilized varieties. The leaves are hardier, firmer to the bite, less limp and thus more robust in vinaigrette. Its origin as an arable wild plant is apparent in the flavor.

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Spices, wild herbs and condiments

Nominated by:Slow Food Cologne