“Lettuce is like conversation; it must be fresh and crisp and so sparkling that you barely notice the bitter in it”. ~ C.D. Warner (19th Century)
If there’s one thing on our tables that sums up summer better than anything else it has to be salad. In our house salad’s served either as a meal itself or alongside most other meals during summer and even though I have to be careful how much raw veg I eat these days, I always make sure I get my bit!
Lettuce has been a staple used in salads for as long as I can remember. My nan used to use it and Mum certainly did. In fact, I can’t remember Mum ever serving a salad that didn’t include lettuce. Mind you, the salads back in the 60s and 70s were pretty dire compared to the ones we usually drum up these days, but we didn’t know any different and I wolfed them down. Salad with ham, salad with grated cheese, salad with prawns, salad with spam (no Monty Python jokes, please), salad with boiled egg and… well, salad with just about anything.
Lettuce is thought to have been brought to the UK with the Romans although it’s history dates back as long as 6,000 years to one of the first civilised cultures - the Sumerians. If it’s survived that long, it’s gotta be good, right?
Although the nutritional content varies somewhat from type to type, almost all lettuces contain vitamin C, iron, calcium, folate, fibre, potassium and beta carotene, which the body uses to produce vitamin A. That’s a lot of goodness in a leaf!
Cos, watercress and spinach, all of which are part of the lettuce family, contain the highest concentrates of vitamin C. These three also contain the most folate, which is really important during those first few months of pregnancy so if you’ve just signed up for your membership to the pudding club, stick a few leaves in your salads. Folate’s also said to protect against Alzheimer’s disease so maybe it’s just as well I’ve always ate a load of it (not spinach though - can’t stand the stuff).
All members of the lettuce family are very low in calories yet high in fibre so they’re great if you’re trying to lose weight. In fact, you may well find you burn up more calories because of the fibre content (the body uses calories to break down fibre) than you’ve actually eaten while still getting loads of vital nutrients.
My personal favourite is Lollo Rosso - the loose-leaved lettuce that’s kind of frilly to look at and tinged a lovely deep red. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to source but when I do find it, I enjoy it so much the more. It tastes fresh but mild and is absolutely beautiful to look at.
Apparently Iceberg is the most often eaten variety in the UK, having arrived here in the 70s from the US where it was first developed. It’s popularity is no doubt down to the fact that it keeps fresh for longer than any other type - up to five days in the fridge. Close on its tail is Cos, which as you can probably guess, originated on the Greek island of the same name. Rocket, which is also a member of the lettuce family, is fast gaining ground too because of it’s peppery taste, making it an excellent choice for Mediterranean style salads.
It’s years since I last grew any lettuce but I can’t remember them as being at all difficult and Dad certainly never had any trouble with his. I may well give them a go again next year - some Lollo Rosso in a few small pots and some Rocket in a couple of others. If you’ve grown them in pots, do let me know how you got on, please.
Lettuce is available from UK growers from May through to October so there's still plenty of time to enjoy locally grown varieties even if you don't grow them yourself. From October onwards, what's found in the shops will either be imported or grown in greenhouses using fossil fuel so I shall be giving those a miss. There's plenty of other salad stuff to choose from during winter so I really don't need it.
I'm having guests for dinner tonight but unfortunately I couldn't find my favourite lettuce during yesterday's shopping trip so some iceberg will have to suffice. Chopped up with red cabbage, carrot, kohlrabi, onion, yellow pepper and pomegranate with a simple vinaigrette dressing served alongside honey and mustard glazed salmon fillets and home-made potato salad, I’m sure it’ll be just fine.
Other posts that may be of interest:
Garden Plants to Use in Salads
BBQs - An Eco Friendly Way of Preparing Food?