Knock, Knock! Who’s there? Lettuce. Lettuce who? Lettuce in, its cold out here.
If prime growing season for lettuce in the Sonoran Desert is the cold season, why then in the middle of summer do we always say when it is hot outside that we want to something light, like a salad?
I may not be a big fan of lettuce but it always ends up in my garden and eventually I eat it. Granted lettuce first started out as a weed around the Mediterranean basin. Now it has been served in dishes for more than 4,500 years. Pictures of lettuce have been found in tomb paintings in Egypt. Christopher Columbus is thought to have introduced lettuce to the new world. And the rest is history.
Frankly, two years ago I got tired of the three varieties of lettuce found in the store and in my garden. It was time to add some diverse culinary lettuce to my garden and diet. Granted last time I tried to expand our experiences, I ended up with a bed of lettuce that no one would eat. Learning from the past, I turned to Ark of Taste to find some new varieties.
What is Ark of Taste? It is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. It is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, educators and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country’s diverse biological, cultural and culinary heritage.
Did you find some new lettuce to try? Yes, I found two varieties which had ties to my cultural roots. The problem was finding seeds for them. I finally found them at Sustainable Seed Company. While looking at their lettuce seeds offerings, I found a third variety that caught my eye.
My first choice was “Speckled Lettuce.” It dates back to 1660 in Holland. From Holland the lettuce was brought to Germany where it was widely cultivated. In 1799 a Mennonite immigrant Urias Martin brought it to Ontario, Canada. It’s name come from the German Forellenschluss, which means “speckled like a trout.” However, that is not what I bought. Instead I purchased, “Speckles Lettuce” seeds. The sad part was I didn’t realize my mistake till I was adding pictures to the blog post. Yes, one letter can make a big difference in what you get.
The “Speckles” lettuce was brought over from Germany and Holland by the Mennonites over 200 years ago when they migrated to America. This Butterhead lettuce is described as being sweet and tender. My uneducated guess is these two types of lettuce are very similar or they are the same but someone wrote down “s” rather than “d” somewhere over the course of time. One thing for sure is that the “Speckles” has become my favorite.
My second choice was “Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce.” It is also known as Matchless lettuce and dates back to the early 1740s but the Amish Deer Tongue is a variety from a later era around 1840. The name comes from the shape of the leaves. The leaves have a thin midrib, good texture and wonderful flavor that is pleasantly sharp. It is also heat tolerant. The family has enjoyed this lettuce as a contrast to the Speckles Lettuce.
The third variety, chosen on a whim while looking at the seed catalog was “Black Seeded Simpson.” In 1885 the James J.H. Seed Company stated this variety was an improvement over the original Simpson. Then in 1918 the Great Northern Seed Company indicated this variety was one of the most easily grown and most reliable varieties, especially in the Western States. In 1935 the Isbell’s Seed Company described the lettuce as “large leaves, the inner ones forming a semi-compact head, very tender, crisp, fine quality, and sweet flavor.” All the reviews indicate this lettuce is great for warmer climates and is slow to bolt. I do not like growing this variety since it doesn’t behave like leaf lettuce and grows naturally in a cylinder cone shape like it is bolting. However, the taste and texture is fabulous and is my wife’s favorite.
So looking for a new variety of lettuce to grow? Try one of these and see if you like it more than iceberg, green leaf, or red leaf lettuce from the store.