This year, it seems like winter has a grip on us and just will not let go. One thing that does make me feel like spring is coming is looking at the lettuce at the grocery store and dreaming about planting some out in my garden.
When I look at the variety of lettuce available at the store, it seems like there must be almost endless number of different types. Actually, there are really only five different types of lettuce.
- Leaf lettuce (sometimes called loose-leaf lettuce)
- Romaine (sometimes called Cos lettuce)
- Crisphead lettuce
- Butterhead Lettuce
- Stem lettuce (sometimes called Asparagus lettuce)
Leaf lettuce has crisp leaves arranged loosely on a stalk. Most home gardeners that grow lettuce have leaf lettuce in their gardens. It is the most widely planted salad vegetable.
Cos or Romaine lettuce can be easily recognized as it has an upright rather elongated head. It is great as an addition to tossed salads.
Butterhead lettuce may be less familiar but are typically smaller, loose headed, and have soft and tender leaves. This too makes an excellent addition to tossed salads.
Stem lettuce is not always available at our local grocery stores. It is actually an enlarged seed stalk often used in Chinese dishes. Sometimes it is stewed or creamed.
The lettuce that everyone seems to be familiar with is the Crisphead lettuce. This type is found in nearly every grocery store—think iceberg lettuce. It seems odd to me that this most common lettuce is actually one of the most difficult to grow. Start this in the garden very early in the spring, as it is very sensitive to heat. If the lettuce is not mature before the hot weather arrives, the lettuce will often die.
Sometimes callers want to know why the lettuce they grew in the garden is bitter. This often happens when the weather turns warmer and stalks for seeds begin to grow. If you wash the lettuce and store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days, the bitterness will dissipate.
Store your lettuce in the coolest part of your refrigerator. The first shelf near the back wall of the refrigerator is usually the coolest spot. Avoid placing the lettuce near pears, bananas, or apples. These fruits give off ethylene gas, which can cause the lettuce to develop brown spots and decay. Discard any lettuce that has black spots or seems slimy.
Due to the composition of lettuce, (94.9% water) there is no way to successfully preserve it. Enjoy lettuce fresh and often. And remember that spring will be here eventually.