(Don’t miss my previous post on loose-leaf lettuce varieties.)
What can be crisp or soft and buttery, grows stiffly erect or low and floppy, has pointed leaves, rounded leaves, ruffled leaves or smooth leaves, comes in light red, wine red, chartreuse, grass green, or forest green, can taste delicious no matter what it looks like?
Lettuce, of course.
We’re all familiar with the lettuce varieties that show up in the produce aisle—classic iceberg, red or green leaf lettuce, romaine, and butterhead. If you are willing to grow your own, that’s just the beginning.
The most famous crisphead lettuce is iceberg. It has far fewer nutrients than any other variety, but nothing quite matches its mild, sweet flavor and satisfying crunch. If you want to make a wedge salad, Chinese Chicken Salad, or lettuce-wraps, you need a crisphead variety.
Bred for commercial use, “Iceberg” has become synonymous with crisphead, but there are other varieties that do much better in the home garden. I don’t usually grow a crisphead lettuce, preferring to use Green Ice (a exceptionally crunchy leaf lettuce) or a Batavian lettuce (below). Or, I just buy a head of market lettuce when I want something crisp. However, friends have recommended Summertime. If you really want to pique your friends’ curiosity, serve them a salad made from Red Iceberg! As the name implies, the outer leaves are a reddish-green color. My Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog claims it has “more nutritional value than other icebergs,” as well.
I bet most of my readers have never heard of this type of lettuce. It’s sort of a sturdy cross between a crisphead and a leaf lettuce. My favorite variety, partly because it’s more widely available, is Nevada. It produces large heads that will sit for weeks in mid-summer without going to seed. The crunchy inner leaves form a loose head, and are somewhat blanched by the medium-green wrapper leaves.
To add interest to a green salad, I grow Rouge de Grenoblouse. Its leaves show a red tint over the green. Whatever type you grow, you’ll find them all delicious.
Also known as Cos, romaine lettuce features sturdy, tall heads with a prominent mid-rib. With its dark green leaves, it has the most nutrients of any variety. All romaines are very hardy, surviving in my unheated greenhouse to 10°F.
For a basic dark-green romaine, similar to that found in the market, try Plato II. The heads get huge, and it is very slow to bolt. Another variety, Jericho (photo at top), also works well for me, reliably producing heads even when our cool spring morphs into hot summer after only one day of mild weather. This isn’t surprising, since it was bred for the hot, dry weather of Israel.
For something more fun, grow Freckles. It’s a medium-green color flecked with irregular red splotches. There’s also Cimarron, an heirloom from the 1700s that appeals to me because of it’s unique bronze-red color. I haven’t grown it yet—maybe I’ll order some this year and see how it does.
My favorite type of lettuce is butterhead lettuce. Since I grow so much of it, it deserves a post of its own… coming soon!
What lettuce varieties are your favorites? What am I missing out on? Or, what will you never waste your money on again?