History of Spinach

Bloomsdale SpinachAfter Ellen’s article about “Alternative Spinach Greens” she now tells us more about the original spinach. Grown in the cooler season in a rich soil, spinach is delicious – juicy with a nice crunch to it; a mildly sweet flavor and no bitterness. Sort of like a bolder leaf lettuce.

There is little written about the history of spinach. It is a common sight in the grocery stores and at farmers markets. In most areas it is hard to find spinach year round at market, because its season is so short lived, just 6 weeks or so.

Spinach seed germinates best in soils that are 40- 70 degrees F and prefers cool days and nights. At 40 degrees F it may take spinach two-three weeks to germinate, but most seeds will sprout. Whereas waiting for warmer soil temps to plant spinach one will see a decrease in germination and faster emergence of seedlings.

Spinach does well from March through May and again September through November. Spring plantings should be planted 6 weeks before the last frost in moist, nitrogen-rich soils. Consistent watering will produce a long harvest and the best looking leaves. When temperatures get warmer, watering twice a day and the cooling effects of shade cloth will help prolong harvest. Spinach’s season is short and perhaps that played into its status as the first vegetable to be frozen for commercial use.

Fall plantings also do well and will regrow in the spring, providing a few extra and welcome harvests early in the spring when everything is just getting started.

There are two types of leaves on spinach. Smoothed leaf spinach produces an oblong, dark to light green leaf. Savoy-types have slightly crinkled leaves with thicker dark green leaves. Regardless of what kind of spinach you grow, spinach is a well-loved vegetable.

The vegetable was probably bred from Spinacia tetranda, a wild edible green found in Nepal. In 647 AD spinach was taken from Nepal to China where it was referred to as the “Persian green.” Spinach was introduced by the Moors of North Africa to Spain in the 11th century. By the Middle Ages, spinach was grown and sold throughout the rest of Europe, and in England was known as the “Spanish vegetable.” It was not until the 1400’s that spinach became a staple in Mediteranean cooking.

Catherine de Medici, Italian royalty of the 1500’s, preferred spinach over other greens. When she left her home in Florence to marry into the French royal family she brought cooks with her to prepare her favorite spinach dishes. Dishes that are served with a bed of spinach are known as “a la Florentine” in her honor.

Breeding work with spinach began in earnest in the early part of the 20th century when breeders started selecting and hybridizing spinach varieties with disease resistance and those that are slower to bolt. One of the best-known varieties came from that period: ‘Bloomsdale Long Standing,’ a slow-bolting, savoyed spinach that is popular today.

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