Lovely, Luscious LettuceJuly 10, 2012
Have I ever sung the praises of humble lettuce here? I’ve probably overlooked it despite how much it contributes to our diet and our garden. So, today’s the day!
From the soft, tender crunchy leaves of Buttercrunch, which we grow from seed all season long, to the deeply cut, crinkled rusty leaves of red oak leaf and mysterious, speckled varieties that I bought as starts to “fluff up” the garden before our recent tour, let me remind you that lettuce is a must-have in any garden!
It adds seasonal color and foliage to the garden. It grows well in dappled sunlight and even deeper shade in warmer climates. It germinates rapidly and continues to mature to luscious heads quickly.
It may be harvested by thinning out young seedlings from thickly sown patches to create microgreen goodness. Removing a few outer leaves from each of several young plants creates a baby greens salad quickly. And, when an entire head is sliced at ground level and the root is left behind, a new head of lettuce will likely form from that same root.
True, lettuce is a cool season crop. But, here in the Pacific Northwest, that means it grows well from late winter until the first freezes of fall. And, with a passive protection system like an unheated greenhouse or cold frame, you may be able to grow it even when the freezes hit. If a head or two begins to bolt during the heat of summer, that leafy goodness is great fodder for the compost pile or pecking for chickens. Just re-seed every week or two to ensure a continual harvest.
On the warmer days, get out in the garden early to harvest your salad greens. Dunk them into a sink filled with chilly water. Swoosh it around and then let the garden grit fall to the bottom of the sink. Gently lift the washed greens, place them in a salad spinner, give it a whirl and then put the whole thing in the fridge to chill during the day. Come evening, even greens that were slightly wilty when picked will be perky and perfect for the table.
At our house, we’ve had some health changes that mean we’re eating more green salads than ever before. Some are kale. Others are chard and spinach. Many are cabbage. But, most of all, the basic leafy green dinner salad in our home contains loads of lovely lettuces.
Consider some of our favorite veggie mixes in a rich, nutritious seasonal salad tonight. Something similar to this one will be on our table. How about yours?
- Mixed lettuces, harvested at dawn
- peeled and sliced cucumber, harvested early & chilled
- 6-8 sugar snap peas, string removed and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
- freshly pulled & scrubbed carrots shaved with a peeler
- fresh, raw baby beets, peeled and sliced thin
- a few tablespoons of raw sunflower seeds
- a few shavings of Romano cheese
- a handful of roasted, chopped cashew nuts
- a few pansy petals, borage blossoms or other edible flowers
- Tossed with a tiny amount of homemade vinaigrette