Sunday, April 1, 2012


Lettuce is a fairly hardy, cool-weather vegetable that thrives when the average daily temperature is between 60 and 70°F. It should be planted in early spring or late summer. At high temperatures, growth is stunted, the leaves may be bitter and the seedstalk forms and elongates rapidly. Some types and varieties of lettuce withstand heat better than others.

There are five distinct types of lettuce: leaf (also called loose-leaf lettuce), Cos or romaine, crisphead, butterhead and stem (also called asparagus lettuce).  I plant leaf lettuce every year.

Leaf lettuce, the most widely adapted type, produces crisp leaves loosely arranged on the stalk. Nearly every garden has at least a short row of leaf lettuce, making it the most widely planted salad vegetable. Cos or romaine forms an upright, elongated head and is an excellent addition to salads and sandwiches. The butterhead varieties are generally small, loose-heading types that have tender, soft leaves with a delicate sweet flavor. Stem lettuce forms an enlarged seedstalk that is used mainly in stewed, creamed and Chinese dishes.

Crisphead varieties, the iceberg types common at supermarkets all over the country, are adapted to northern conditions and require the most care. In areas without long, cool seasons, they generally are grown from transplants, started early and moved to the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. They are extremely sensitive to heat and must mature before the first hot spell of summer to achieve high-quality heads. If an unseasonably early heat wave hits before they have matured, they almost certainly fail. In many locations, crisphead lettuce plants started in late summer to mature in the cooler weather of fall have a much better chance of success.


The origin of lettuce appears to be  from the Middle East. The first records of lettuce as a vegetable in a long leaved form are depicted on Egyptian tombs dated 4500 BC. It was used by the Persian royalty more than 550 years before Christ. Lettuce was cultivated as a salad plant by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Lettuce reached China in the seventh century AD. It was first used in England in 1520 and King Henry VIII is said to have conferred a special reward upon the gardener who devised the combination of lettuce and cherries for the royal table. Lettuce is comparatively a recent introduction into the tropics. It is now widely cultivated in India,  Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, the Caribbean, Central and South America and East and West and Central Africa.


Lettuce is rich in vitamin content, especially the anti scorbutic vitamin C. It is low in food value but high in health value. It is rich in mineral salts with the alkaline elements greatly predominating. So it helps to keep the blood clean, the mind alert, and  the body in good health.

The loose leaf lettuce is considered a better food. It has the advantage of being more exposed to sunlight. thus providing it with a richer supply of vitamins than the head-lettuce in which the leaves are closed. Whatever quality of lettuce is selected for use, it should be ensured that it is fresh. crisp and green -leaved. The greener the leaves, the higher the vitamins.

The nutritional value of lettuce depends on the variety. Lettuce in general provides small amounts of dietary fiber, some carbohydrates, a little protein and a trace of fat. Its most important nutrients are vitamin A and potassium. The vitamin A comes from beta carotene, whose yellow-orange is hidden by green chlorophyll pigments. Beta carotene, of course, is converted to vitamin A in the human body. The darker green, the more beta carotene.

According to the American Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, foods rich in vitamin A and C (antioxidants) offer protection against some forms of cancer. Along with other phytochemicals, antioxidants reduce the risk of cancer of the respiratory system and intestinal tract.
Lettuce, except iceberg, is also a moderately good source of vitamin C, calcium, iron, and copper. The spine and ribs provide dietary fiber, while vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the delicate leaf portion.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup raw, shredded)
Calories 3.92
Protein 0.45 grams
Carbohydrate 0.66 grams
Dietary Fiber 0.48 grams
Calcium 10.08 mg
Iron 0.31 mg
Potassium 81.20 mg
Vitamin C 6.72 mg
Folate 38.08 mcg
Vitamin A 728.00 IU


Leaf, Cos and Butterhead lettuce can be planted anytime in the spring when the soil is dry enough to rake the surface. Two or more successive plantings at 10 to 14 day intervals provide a continuous supply of lettuce. Lettuce does not withstand hot summer days well and spring planting should be completed at least a month before the really hot days of early summer begin. Plantings started in late summer mature during cool fall weather. Watering is essential for seed germination and establishment of seedlings. Some shade may also benefit summer sowings. Heat-tolerant varieties (mainly loose-leaf types) may be grown in the shade of taller crops through most of the summer if extra care is taken about irrigation and soil selection.

Head lettuce must be transplanted in most locations and requires more care than other types of lettuce. Start transplants for a spring crop indoors or in a cold frame and set them in the garden as early in the spring as the weather allows.  Harden transplants outdoors so that they become acclimated to the conditions under which they will be grown, but do not allow growth to stop entirely. Cos, butterhead and leaf varieties also can be transplanted for earlier harvest. In the heat of summer, lettuce seedlings started in a protected location in the shade can be transplanted later into moderate sites for some limited success.

Plant seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep (10 seeds per foot) in single, double, or triple rows 12 to 18 inches apart. Thin seedlings to 4 inches apart for leaf lettuce and 6 to 8 inches apart for Cos or Butterhead. The seedlings removed may be transplanted or eaten. Transplant Crisphead seedlings 10 to 12 inches apart in the row.

Because lettuce has shallow roots, it should be hoed or cultivated carefully. Frequent light watering causes the leaves to develop rapidly, resulting in high-quality lettuce. Over watering, especially in heavy soils, can lead to disease, soft growth and scalding or burning of the leaf margins. Organic mulches can help moderate soil temperature and the microenvironment to produce quality lettuce in less than ideal weather conditions.


Leaf lettuce may be cut whenever it is large enough to use. Cutting every other plant at ground level gives the remaining plants more space for growth. Leaf lettuce reaches maximum size (6 to 12 ounces) in 50 to 60 days allowing you to plant another crop.

Butterhead varieties form small, loose heads that weigh 4 to 8 ounces at harvest (60 to 70 days). The innermost leaves, that tend to blanch themselves, are a delicacy. Cos varieties have an upright growth habit and form a long, medium-dense head.


To store lettuce, wash, drip dry and place in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Lettuce keeps best at 32°F and high (96%) humidity.

Iceberg lettuce is the most popular lettuce in the United States.  I have never tried to grow it, but you will always find a head in my vegetable drawer.  It is a head lettuce that is also low in nutritional value and flavor. Because of its superior shipping qualities, iceberg has been most available which accounts for it popularity. The most abundant nutrient in iceberg lettuce is water. Dark green lettuce leaves always indicate higher fiber, flavor, and nutritional value.

Lettuce leaves should be free of wilt, rot and rust. Harvest crisp green leaves. Wrap fresh, unwashed leaves in plastic warp and store in the refrigerator for a few days if necessary. Cooler temperature will keep lettuce fresh longer. The coolest part of most refrigerators is usually on the first shelf against the rear wall.

Avoid storing lettuce with apples, pears, or bananas. These fruits release ethylene gas, a natural ripening agent, that will cause the lettuce to develop brown spots and decay quickly. Toss lettuce that looks slimy or has black spots. The slime is the residue of bacterial decomposition and the black spots are usually mold.

Preparation and Preserving

Rinse lettuce just before serving in very cold water. Pat dry with a clean towel. Limp leaves can be revived by immersing in ice water for a few minutes. Tear lettuce leaves into pieces. If practical, do not cut or slice lettuce leaves in advance. Damaged cut lettuce leaves release an ascorbic acid oxidase, which destroys vitamin C. Cut edges also discolor quickly.

Dry leaves before serving. Salad dressing will cling to dry lettuce leaves instead of sinking to the bottom of the salad bowl. Toss with your favorite dressing just before serving (or serve dressing on the side). Lettuce leaves covered with dressing will quickly wilt.

Due to the extremely high water content, 94.9%, there are no successful method of long-term home preservation for lettuce. Lettuce does not respond well to freezing, canning, or drying. For optimal nutritional value, lettuce should be eaten while it is fresh and crisp.

The mild flavor of fresh lettuce leaves are well complimented by fresh or dry herbs. The base of most green salads is lettuce. Two or three lettuce varieties are good for both taste and texture. Mix leaf lettuce (Black-seed Simpson or Oak Leaf) with crisp lettuce (romaine or other crisphead) and accent with fresh herb leaves. The simplest way to appreciate a tossed green salad is with a vinaigrette dressing. Keep it simple. When the dressing becomes too complicated, the mild garden greens can be overpowered.


Mixed Green Salad with Red and Yellow Pepper Vinaigrette

4 cups mixed fresh greens (combine a leaf lettuce with crisp varieties) romaine, Boston, with red leaf or Oak Leaf or your favorite lettuce
4 tbsp. vinaigrette below
2 tbsp. crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese (optional)

Wash and dry lettuce leaves. Tear into bite size pieces. Place in an oversized bowl with room for tossing. Place in refrigerator until ready to toss and serve. Can be prepared up to 2 hours in advance. Makes one cup of vinaigrette.
Pour 4 tablespoons of vinaigrette over the greens and toss well with two large forks to coat. Add crumbled cheese, if desired and toss to combine. Serve immediately. Yields 4 one-cup servings.

Red and Yellow Pepper Vinaigrette

1 small yellow bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons warm water
pinch of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients until combined well. This vinaigrette will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 3 days. Recipe may be doubled. Makes one cup.
Try these simple vinaigrette recipes with your favorite salad greens.

My Story

This is a recipe that my Grandmother Gombert used to make.  My mother has written it down in her own handwriting.  It was given to her by my Aunt Hilda back in 1982 before she passed. 

1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. salt
Dash of pepper
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. butter
1 cup weak vinegar

Mix dry  and add well beaten eggs, milk, butter, vinegar and beat constantly until thick and creamy.  Cool.

 Citrus Vinaigrette

1/4 cup fresh orange juice (juice of one small orange)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tsp. coarse Kosher salt (1/4 teaspoon table salt)
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the juices and salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in oils until incorporated. A blender or food processor may also be used. Pour into a glass jar and seal. Serve over your favorite salad greens. The vinaigrette will keep, tightly covered, for a week in the refrigerator. To warm cold vinaigrette, place jar in a bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes.

Mustard Chive Vinaigrette

1 tbsp. grainy Dijon-style mustard
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
2 tbsp.  white vinegar
1 tbsp. water
2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. olive oil

Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Using a whisk or fork, in a small bowl combine all ingredients except the oil. Slowly add the oil, whisking vigorously, until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Pour over your favorite salad greens and toss. Store remaining vinaigrette in the refrigerator, in a tightly sealed glass jar, for up to one week. To warm cold vinaigrette, place jar in a small bowl of hot tap water for a few minutes. Makes 1/2 cup.

Bacon Lettuce Tomato Sandwich (BLT)

4 slices bread, toasted
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 lettuce leaves
1 medium tomato, cut into slices
6 slices bacon, cooked, drained, and cut in half

Spread 2 of the toast slices with mayo. Cover each with 1 lettuce leaf, 2 tomato slices and 6 bacon pieces.
Top with remaining toast slices.  Make it a BLTA by adding slices of avocado.  Yum! 

Yield: 2 servings

Silly writing this down, but a reminder that lettuce goes great on any sandwich including the hamburger.

Lettuce Wrap

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup instant brown rice
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 pound 93%-lean ground turkey
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 large red bell pepper, finely diced
1 (8 ounce) can water chestnuts, rinsed and chopped
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tbsp.  hoi sin sauce (see Note)
1 tsp. five-spice powder (see Note)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 heads Boston lettuce, leaves separated
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as cilantro, basil, mint and/or chives
1 large carrot, shredded

Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add rice; reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.  Heat oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add turkey and ginger; cook, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until the turkey is cooked through, about 6 minutes. Stir in the cooked rice, bell pepper, water chestnuts, broth, hoi sin sauce, five-spice powder and salt; cook until heated through, about 1 minute.  To serve, spoon portions of the turkey mixture into lettuce leaves, top with herbs and carrot and roll into wraps.  Yield: 4 servings

Since my grandson can't have gluten we make a lot of wraps for him substituting the bread with lettuce.  Great way to have a BLT without the bread.

BLT Soup 

5 slices bacon, diced small
1/2  cup  diced green onions
2  tablespoon  butter
3  cup  iceberg lettuce, julienne
1/2  cup  instant-blending flour
3 1/2  cup  fresh or canned chicken broth, heated to a simmer
1  cup  diced fresh tomatoes
1/8  teaspoon  grated fresh nutmeg
1/8  teaspoon  ground red pepper
1  cup  heavy cream
1/4  cup  mayonnaise
1/4  cup  sour cream
crisp crumbled bacon

In a 3-quart pot, cook the bacon over medium heat till lightly browned. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until wilted. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the lettuce and saute for 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the pot, then stir it in until well blended. Remove the pot from the heat and add the hot chicken broth, tomatoes, nutmeg and pepper. Heat the soup to boiling, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the cream and mix well. Mix together the mayonnaise and sour cream.
Serve each portion of soup with a dollop of mayonnaise mixture topped with crumbled bacon.  Serves 8.

Variation:  I have had another BLT soup and the lettuce was not put into it until just before serving as a garnish on top.  It was more of a creamed based soup with bacon in it and then garnished on top with the tomato and shredded lettuce.  I much preferred it to the above one.  You can take the above recipe and just leave out the lettuce and tomato and add them at the very end. 

Amish Lettuce Salad

1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup  sugar
3/4 tsp.  salt
1 tsp. vinegar
1med head lettuce cut up
1sm onion thinly sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs

Combine whipped sour cream with sugar, salt and vinegar; mix well.  Combine lettuce,  onion rings and 1 sliced egg. Toss lightly. Slice remaining egg on top.
Yield: 4 servings.

Oriental Salad with Ramen Noodles

The original recipe calls for cabbage coleslaw mix, but I had it served at a B & B with lettuce and I have made it with lettuce ever since.

1 package ramen noodles
Package of lettuce mix  
2 green onions-chopped or chives 
1/2 cup almonds-slivered
1/2 cup sunflower shelled seeds or pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup salad oil
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup  rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. sugar
2 pinches flavor packet powder from noodles

In a large bowl mix together all vegetables, sunflower seeds and almonds.  Mix dressing ingredients into in a small bowl and whisk until blended.  Add dressing to salad and mix well.   Crumble dry noodles and mix noodles into salad, cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.  Makes 4-5 servings

Olive Garden Copy Cat Salad Dressing and Salad Mix


1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 1/2 tbsp. grated Romano cheese
2 tbsp. dry pectin
2 tbsp. Egg Beaters substitute
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp.  lemon juice
1/2 tsp.  minced garlic
1/4 tsp.  dried parsley flakes
1 pinch dried oregano
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all of the ingredients with a mixer on medium speed or in a blender on low speed for 30 seconds.
Chill at least 1 hour.  Serve over mixed greens.

Olive Garden Salad Mix

1 bag American blend salad
4-5 slices red onion
4-6 black olives
2-4 banana Peppers
1/2 cup croutons
1 small tomato quartered

Cobb Salad

Bag of mixed lettuces including romaine and Boston.
6 slices of bacon
2 ripe avocados, seed removed, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 whole skinless boneless chicken breast  or turkey (about 3/4 pound total), halved, cooked, and diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped fine
2 hard-boiled large eggs, separated, the yolk finely chopped and the white finely chopped
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup finely grated Roquefort


1/3 cup red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
1-2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup olive oil

In a large salad bowl, arrange lettuce leaves on bottom.
Cook the bacon in a skillet on medium heat until crisp on both sides. Remove from skillet and lay out on paper towels to absorb the excess fat. Allow the bacon to cool. Crumble the bacon and set aside.  I like to use the precooked bacon to save time.

Compose the salad. Arrange the chicken or turkey, the bacon, the tomato, sliced egg, and the avocado decoratively over the greens and garnish the salad with the  chives.
In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, the mustard, and salt and pepper to taste, add the oil in a slow stream, whisking, and whisk the dressing until it is emulsified. Stir in the Roquefort. Add sugar to taste, 1/2 teaspoon at a time. Whisk the dressing. Serve separately or toss in with the salad or just pour over just before serving.

Caesar Salad and Dressing

6 cloves garlic, peeled
3/4 cup mayonnaise
5 anchovy fillets, minced
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt to taste
ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups day-old bread, cubed
1 head romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

Mince 3 cloves of garlic, and combine in a small bowl with mayonnaise, anchovies, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cut the remaining 3 cloves of garlic into quarters, and add to hot oil. Cook and stir until brown, and then remove garlic from pan. Add bread cubes to the hot oil. Cook, turning frequently, until lightly browned. Remove bread cubes from oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Place lettuce in a large bowl. Toss with dressing, remaining Parmesan cheese, and seasoned bread cubes.
You can also top with grilled chicken breast to make a complete meal. 

Lettuce Wedge

Growing up in the 50's this is right out of the 50's and seems to be back in vogue again.  Super simple the way I like it.

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
2 large heads iceberg lettuce, quartered

Combine grated lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of hot water and mix well. Add mayonnaise and stir until smooth. The dressing can be made up to 3 days in advance; cover and refrigerate.

Arrange iceberg wedges on plates or a serving platter. Drizzle some dressing over each, sprinkle with pepper and serve. Serve with remaining dressing on the side.

Grilled Lettuce

Lately the thing is to grill everything including lettuce.  Endive lettuce grills nicely, but you can also do radicchio wedges or romaine and serve it with your favorite vinaigrette.  

My Story

I have given you my 4 favorite lettuce salads, that being the lettuce oriental salad, the Cobb salad, the Olive Garden salad and the Caesar salad.  I usually do not use any type of recipe for a salad.  My absolute favorite salad is my mother’s apple salad which I will give you in my apple recipes later. 

In making a salad, what ever I have usually dictates what goes in my lettuce salads.  I love to add nuts such as pecans or walnuts and fruit such as raspberries from my garden or mandarin oranges.  What is in the salad dictates what dressing I use.  I love a raspberry salad dressing with nuts, fresh raspberries and  lettuce.  I might top the salad with ham or what ever meat I may have cold in the refrigerator (cold pork roast is great or of course cold chicken).  I like to play with oils and vinegar and make my own dressings.  Recently I made a salad with mandarin oranges so used the juice as a base for my vinaigrette.  I had bought some beautiful white peach balsamic vinegar in Chicago and I think I may have made the best dressing I have ever had.  Play with your food.  It's fun and entertaining.  You may come up with an exciting new recipe on your own.

Tomorrow I'll start my chapter on apples.

Be happy and may God bless you and yours.  

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