In my grandmother Isabella’s house, Sunday tea was often cold cuts of Sunday roast, salad, freshly baked bread and a big pot of tea. Lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and slices of onion – I can still taste it. This was also how I developed a great love of steaming new waxy potatoes with a cold salad. The butterhead lettuce was freshly picked, washed and served in a great big bowl. Nowadays, I can pop out to the garden and gather the ingredients to recreate this wonderful memory. Good basic food, packed with flavour and nutrients.
But the lettuce that adorns our tables today has come a long way from the humble butterhead lettuce. Not that there’s anything wrong with the butterhead. It is probably one of the most popular (and least expensive) types of lettuce bought in the supermarket every week, along with iceberg lettuce. If you want some variety though, you are going to pay handsomely.
So why not grow your own?
There are so many varieties available for you to sow and grow at home. Every year I buy “Cut and Come Again” lettuce seeds. These are also known as Salad Bowl or Looseleaf lettuce leaves. My seed packet will give me a variety of lettuce leaves that I can cut as I need them. After cutting, the leaves will grow again to give me a few more yields before dying off – hence the “cut and come again” tag. You will see this written on the front of the packet of seeds.
Whether you sow cut and come again, butterhead or any other variety, your lettuce will grow well, but sowing a full packet of seeds in one go will give you a harvest of way too much lettuce all at the one time. So remember to sow a little and regularly and this should give you a wonderful supply of lettuce for a large part of the year.
TIP: Salad leaves – sow a little and often
You may enjoy some of the lettuces in your salad leaf mix so much that you’ll want to grow some individual heads of that variety. If that’s the case, there are plenty to choose from. Here are some of my favourites..
Romaine This is the lettuce leaf that you find in a Caesar Salad. Easy to grow, be sure to thin seedlings, water well and pick leaves as soon as they are big enough.
Lollo Rosso I love the rich fiery copper colour in these leaves. It will add a brilliant dash of colour to your greenhouse or garden. I use this as a “cut and come again” lettuce by just picking the outer leaves. I find that Lollo Rosso is one variety that does particularly well in the sunshine.
Salad Rocket This is definitely one of my personal favourites and slightly less “peppery” than wild rocket. It is also faster growing than wild rocket and leaves can be picked in 7-8 weeks.
Little Gem Have you seen the price of this in supermarkets? Need I say more!
Lambs Lettuce A slow grower that I find great for winter harvesting.
Even if you only have a balcony or patio, it is possible to grow your own lettuce.
Why not try it – not only will the taste be great but picking your own lettuce will make you feel like you’ve really got the hang of this old self-sufficiency thing, trust me…
(excerpt from “Food From An Irish Garden, Orpen Press)
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