Friday, May 9, 2014

What's in that Bag of Lettuce?

Wild Lettuce

Did you ever think about who made the first salad?

I have often wondered how the ancient Egyptians decided to start cultivating Latuca, a member of the sunflower family, for food.  With its spiny leaves and sticky, bitter sap, what we know as wild lettuce  certainly doesn’t seem appetizing in any way.
No amount of ranch dressing and croutons could tempt me to take on these spines!

Maybe the dew made it more appealing

bitter, sticky sap does nothing for the palatability

However, ancient people saw the potential and there is historic data to show evidence of its cultivation since 2680 BC.  In medieval times it was grown for its medicinal qualities, and was used to treat typhoid and smallpox.

Selective breeding over the centuries has led to a much more palatable leaf, less latex (the bitter, sticky white sap) and lots of pretty colors. Thomas Jefferson was perhaps the most famous lettuce gardener and it is still possible to obtain (and grow) the varieties he developed and grew at Monticello.

Here are a few facts about LETTUCE that you might not have considered as you made that ever-popular side salad.

-Lettuce is a member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, and was originally grown for its seeds that were used to produce oil.

-Americans eat about 30 pounds of lettuce every year. That’s about five times more than what we ate in the early 1900s.

-In the United States, the USDA reports that lettuce is the second most popular fresh vegetable sold.    (Potatoes come in #1, if you wondered)  

-There are 1,100 named varieties of lettuce, each having a slightly different taste, texture and color! The seeds are different colors, too.

we start seeds on a three-week rotation
in order to have a continuous supply of tender, tasty lettuce

Lettuce is perhaps the single most popular item we grow here on the hill.  

But, the 1,300 bags of mixed lettuce that we picked and packed by hand last year hardly compare to the 23,217,623 metric tons produced throughout the world in 2011. The US alone produced 4,105,580 metric tons of lettuce in 2010. (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) That’s a LOT of salads! Numbers like that are fairly incomprehensible to me, but it does grant some perspective as to the food needed to feed and fuel the world.

Our mixed lettuce is not only popular, but it causes me to recall a pleasant childhood memory and somehow connects me to the past.  Click here to read my earliest post about lettuce. I love the color and textures of our lettuce mix and am always looking for new types to keep our mixed lettuce pretty and tasty.  

We grow about 35 varieties of lettuce throughout the year, each chosen for a different quality.  Color, taste, texture and “loft” are just a few of the things I look for when perusing the seed catalogs. Different varieties will withstand the heat (or cold) and knowing this allows us to have lettuce throughout the year (most of the time).   Did you read this one?  I must say we are successful most of the time---because the winter of 2013 beat us…big time.

I’m off to harvest the lettuce for tomorrow’s Market.  After taste-testing this week’s batch, I’ll spend the next several hours picking each leaf individually before the Boss rinses, spins and packs the lettuce in bags.  It will then be packed in the cooler to await sale in the morning. That's FRESH!

I must say, there is more than just pretty leaves packed into each of those bags. A lot of history, copious amounts of thought, effort and planning and more than a little heart go into every bag of lettuce from here on the hill. (and hopefully, there are NO slugs!) 

Bon Appetit!


  1. Wow! I'll never look at my salad the same again.
    Who knew?
    Thanks so much I'm so impressed with this, as always a great job!

    1. Kelly, your kind encouragement means SO much! Thank you!

  2. Black seeded Simpson. Yum. Do you grow that?

    1. We do grow that one, Maureen. However, my favorite is a Simpson-type that holds up better in the heat. It has a pretty pink edge, too. But, the best part is the name. It's called "Drunken Woman Frizzied Headed". Yeah, really. Wouldn't you LOVE to know the story behind that one? LOL

    2. It would figure that I would like Drunken Woman Frizzied Headed lettuce. I have been asked if I was a hippie more times than I can count. The last time was last year -at age 58!
      Him: You smoked pot, right? Me: Why would you think that? _pause_ It's my hair, right? Him: well, yeah.

    3. You make me laugh SO hard! Thank you. :)
      I hope you're having a wonderful day! <3

  3. Barbara-Hello! I want to introduce myself first! My name is Sara Ross and I'm a fellow CommonGround volunteer from Iowa! I'm so happy you have joined our group to talk to consumers about farming and agriculture! I'm just starting a weekly round-up of ag related blog posts from my friends in the ag industry and am including this blog post today! Thank you for sharing this information!

    1. Hi Sara!
      Glad to meet you! I'm excited about the connections Commonground is making possible. I just found your blog the other the header. :)
      I like your idea for a weekly round-up. Can you send me a link?
      Hope to visit with you again soon.

  4. My lettuce is growing well, but not quite ready to start eating it yet. So, if I get to the market while you still have some I will probably pick up a bag.

    1. Glad to hear your garden is growing well, Mark! We have LOTS of lettuce, so we should have plenty for you at the Market.

  5. I now love lettuce even more! Is that possible? What a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing and for linking up to the Country Fair Blog Party week #11.
    Laurie - Country Link

    1. Thanks for the kind words.
      I'm so glad someone else loves lettuce! It's one of my favorite crops to grow.
      The Country Fair Link Blog Party is a great idea. Thanks to you and Nicole and the other ladies for hosting it!

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