I learned years ago that, just like most garden veggies, there are so many cool varieties that you just don’t see unless you seek out the heirloom seed companies. It seems like I end up trying a new variety of lettuce every year- there is always another variety that I “just have to have!”
Lettuce is like the Jello of the garden. There’s always room for more.
My Favorite Lettuce Varieties
This was actually one I tried for the first time this year. Advertised as the “darkest red” lettuce available, it didn’t disappoint.
I’d like to take this opportunity to make an official statement: Merlot lettuce is my new favorite lettuce variety. I took one bite of one leaf for the first time a few weeks ago and that was all it took. Buy Merlot seed here.
It is really mild, and Karl describes the flavor as “berry-like.” Plus, what I really love is that the deep color means there are a lot of vitamins and antioxidants in it. Make sure to plant it in full sun for the darkest red color!
It took me a couple years to be able to pronounce this one. The name means “speckled like a trout,” which was the reason I picked it out in the first place. I have been growing this variety for three years, with the last two being soley from the seed I save every year. Buy Forellenschluss seed here (affiliate).
Not bitter or peppery. Karl and I both agreed that this lettuce has more flavor than most other lettuces.
That’s “frizz-aye.” Although not technically a member of the lettuce family, we eat it like one (as do most people). I just love the curly, lacy edges- it looks so fancy and delicate plus it has the most beautiful green color.
This lettuce is quite bitter. But when paired with other mild greens and a sweet dressing, like my Maple Poppyseed Vinaigrette, it completely mellows out. Buy Frisee seed here (affiliate).
Is there such thing as a lettuce snob?
How I Clean Garden Lettuce
There are two permanent fixtures on my kitchen counter during the summer: a lettuce washing bowl and salad spinner. I have lettuce washing down to a science. Afterall, we eat it nearly every day.
I pick the lettuce leaves whole, snapping off the stems near the ground. Then into the house for a proper washing. I don’t know about you, but my garden lettuce always ends up with plenty of dirt on it (especially with all the rain we’ve had).
I harvest the lettuce right into my stainless steel washing bowl. Having a plenty-large bowl is critical. I fill the bowl ¾ full with very cold water and swoosh it all around. The lettuce needs plenty of room to move around in the bowl to dislodge the dirt.
Don’t overcrowd it! Wash it in two batches if you need to, to prevent overcrowding. No need to change the water or anything for the second batch. A third batch? Well, that might be another story…
Once the lettuce is squeaky clean, I pull out one or two-at-the-most leaves at a time, break them into bite-sized pieces and put them directly into my salad spinner bucket. I find if I stack too many wet lettuce leaves on top of each other, they will stick together and have a hard time separating in the salad spinner.
I like to wash the leaves whole, but spin them broken up. I think the dirt is easier to get off when the leaves are whole, and the water spins off better when the pieces are smaller. See, science.
If you have a garden full of lettuce, a salad spinner is the best investment you can make. I might even call it life-changing. Eating wet, soggy lettuce is a real bummer.
The salad spinner I have is Oxo brand, and I really love it (affiliate). There are probably cheaper ones available, but this one is nice and will last a very long time. I have the smaller one that they make, which is perfect for drying lettuce for several people. Sometimes I have to dry in a couple batches, which is a small price to pay for the extra cupboard room I save not having the larger version.
How to Save Lettuce Seed
And please, please…
If you grow your own lettuce, make sure and save the seed! It is so very easy to do.
I love what Karen from “The Art of Doing Stuff” says about saving lettuce seed: that, “saving lettuce seed is perfect for the busy and lazy lettuce-eating people of the world.” She’s so right.
When the lettuce senses that its time is coming to an end, it sends up a flower stalk. Depending on the type of lettuce, it either has skinny pea-pod looking things, or little tiny daisy-like flowers.
Simply leave the seed heads on the plant until they turn brown. But don’t wait too, too long or you may loose all the seed in a wind or rain storm.
Of course, I like to collect them as soon as possible. But I’m also a little seed-obsessive…
Don’t collect the seeds right after it rains; make sure they aren’t wet.
To collect lettuce seed I take a grocery store plastic bag and use a sharpie marker to write the variety on the outside of the bag. Do this before, not after you collect the seed, especially if you are collecting more than one variety. Trust me. I have more than one envelope of home-saved seeds labeled: “I think this is romaine, but it could be butter head.” Ha.
I take a scissors or little pruning shears and head out with my plastic bag. I simply hold the bag under the seed heads and use the scissors to clip them off, letting them fall into the bag.
And I take as many as I can. I don’t need them spilling all over the garden, plus I want all the seed I can get! For a seed hoarder like myself, saving lettuce seeds is pure bliss.
Plus, I love having way more seed than I can use so that I can pass some on to friends, and feel free to plant it liberally. That, and I also have to keep my parents supplied in lettuce seed. They think they need to buy lettuce seed from the garden center every year. Which just about kills me. Come on, Mom!
I usually end up storing the seed heads in the plastic grocery bags until next year. In early spring, when I have that “I need to get in the garden or I’ll just burst but there’s still six inches of snow on the ground” feeling, I break out my bags of lettuce seed and have a seed shucking therapy session.
Ha, say that fives times fast!
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