Newest Review: ... a few types of lettuce that can be grown over winter, like the aptly named "Winter Crop" and "Lambs' Lettuce", but I... more
As BORING as a lettuce! Think Again!
Member Name: luigi0778
Date: 22/02/10, updated on 22/02/10 (113 review reads)
Advantages: Versatile, Low Calorie, Easy to Grow
Disadvantages: Poor image, hard to find decent produce
Lettuce or Lactuca Sativa to call it by its latin name, is surprisingly actually part of the large daisy family of plants. So, yes the humble white daisy annoyingly growing amongst your otherwise prestine lawn is a genetic cousin of that Iceberg lettuce you had earlier consumed in your McDonalds burger! Strange but true!
Another strange fact, is that lettuce contains a substance called Lactucarium, which is found mainly in the base of the stem, and is an opiate related compound, which can induce sedative and analgesic reactions, as well as feelings of euphoria.
Reputedly. The Romans used to eat large quantities of lettuce at the end of meals, to help them sleep, and invoke states of euphoria some hours later. No doubt this is why they became reknowned for their legendary orgies and collections of erotica. And all this down to the humble lettuce!
However despite this, it is commonly cultivated and consumed in a form and purpose which we will all recognise, namely a leafy edible plant.
Lettuces are available practically everywhere, there is a difference between lettuces though, and more specifically a good lettuce is a rarity; you have to either grow it yourself, or hunt down one at a good farmers market.
I can not emphasis enough the difference between a bag of ready chopped tasteless lettuce from a supermarket, which requires dressing with strong flavours, and the superlative flavours from something which has character which has been grown naturally, which requires little more than good oil and lemon juice.
This however is very hard to rationalise in text, and sounds absurd. Once you have tasted the difference though, you will know what I mean.
-Types of Lettuce-
Typically Lettuces fall into a number of growing types, these are then divided further into the actual individiual cultivar varieities, of which there are literally hundreds around the world:
-Open butter head varieties; These are essentially lettuces that have willowly billowly leaves, and grow into a "head" but are quite loose and floppy, things like lollo rossa, that kind of thing etc.
-Compacts, or Closed Heads; These are lettuces which form definite closed compact heads, and are usually quite firm, things like Romaines, Icebergs, Little Gems etc.
-Cutting Lettuce; These don't normally form finite heads, but are an open style of growth, and/or are solely cultivated for the harvest of the leaf with no stem, for example lambs tongue. etc.
There is some cross-over amongst these too, for example if harvested early things like lollo rosso can be considered a cutting lettuce.
Aside from these main types, and despite the supermarkets lack of choices, there are as earlier mentioned literally hundres of types of lettuces to eat. There is so much more to lettuce than the dreaded tasteless Iceberg, or the floppy Lollo Rossa. There are some which barely resemble lettuce at all, while others which are best cooked. Etc.
-Grow your Own-
As mentioned earlier, the supermarkets really do have limited choices when it comes to fresh vegetables, and one of the biggest victims is the humble lettuce.
My advice would be to grow your own, they are embarassingly easy to grow, will grow practically anywhere, in any soil type, are not nutrient greedy, or deep rooted, and can be grown year round. In scorching summer heat, and even outside in Winter! It is just a qusetion of variety.
It does amaze me, that so many people only assosciate lettuce with spring. So please do take a look at other types.
Suggestions for different times of year:
Spring: Little Gem, Cos, Reggina Di Maggio, Rossa Ricciolina
Summer: Lolla Rossa, Romaine Bionda, Passione Brune
Autumn: Oak Leaf Lettuce, Pesciatina, Four Seasons Lettuce
Winter: Meraviglia D'Inverno, Rouge De Montpellier
How to Grow:
1. Prepare:- a suitable area to sow, literally just a case of a quick rake over, removing large stones, or preparing a pot or container to grow them in. If you are growing in winter, start them off under cover, but once they are in-leaf, they are fine outside. Normally you would start off winter lettuces in the autumn.
2. Sow:- Sowing is just a casual affair, you don't need to specifically plant seeds individually just scatter at random, and lightly dust with soil, or rake them over, and lightly water.
2. Thin Down :- Pluck out weedy looking individuals (lifes so unfair), and leave room for the others to grow.
3. Harvest :- Somewhere between 4-6 weeks after planting your lettuce can be harvested, you can actually harvest at anytime once main leaves have formed.
The main pests are slugs and snails, the best advice is to sparingly use Slug Pellets, organic gardeners look away!!! You can try beer traps, or frolicking around outside after dark with a torch. Whatever floats your boat. Far from me to spoil your fun. But I would rather scatter a few pellets, and then clean away the corpses.
-Culinary Uses and Health-
Aside from the very obvious salad, lettuce can and does feature alot in cooked recipes. Ranging from Italian Risottos, Soups, and of course Chinese dishes.
One of my favourites is using pork mince seasoned with soy, hoisin sauce, chilli garlic, ginger, and green onions and gently folding this mixture intothe middle of fresh lettuce leaves. You then eat it, hot, as if its some kind of green burrito.
Another nice one, is lettuce shredded and added to a bean soup, if you add it in the last five to ten minutes, you still get some firmness in the crisper parts, although it is completely cooked through.
From a health perspective, probably the most significant is the assosciation with lettuce and calories (lack of). It is however also a good source of folic acid, fibre and various vitamins. So Enjoy!
Summary: More to Lettuce than you would think! Eat more of it!