Lettuce is the best known and most universally used of all salad herbs. It is available in a variety of shapes, textures and colors. One of the most attractive and is the "Lollo" above with its pretty frilled, red leaves.
Lettuce leaves not only form the primary ingredient for delicious and varied salads, but also form the basis for beautiful food presentations and garnishes.
There are six main Culivar groups of lettuce:
• Butterhead, also called Boston or Bibb, forms loose heads; it has a buttery texture. Butterhead cultivars are most popular in Europe.
• Chinese lettuce types generally have long, sword-shaped, non-head-forming leaves, with a bitter and robust flavour unlike Western types, appropriate for use in stir-fried dishes and stews. Chinese lettuce cultivars are divided into “stem-use” types, and “leaf-use” types such as.
• Crisphead, also called Iceberg, which form tight, dense heads that resemble cabbage. They are generally the mildest of the lettuces, valued more for their crunchy texture than for flavour. Cultivars of iceberg lettuce are the most familiar lettuces in the USA. The name Iceberg comes from the way the lettuce was transported in the US starting in the
1920s on train-wagons covered in crushed ice, making them look like icebergs.
• Looseleaf, with tender, delicate, and mildly flavoured leaves. This group comprises oak leaf and lollo rosso lettuces.
• Romaine, also called Cos, is a head-forming type with elongated leaves.
• Summer Crisp, also called Batavian, which form moderately dense heads with a crunchy texture; this type is intermediate between iceberg and looseleaf types.
Cultivation of Lettuce
Site: Grow lettuce in well-draining soil with plenty of organic compost mixed in. Sandy to loamy soils work well for lettuce. Keep your soil pH at around 6.5 for best results.
Propagation: You can plant most varieties of lettuce directly in the ground from seed. Romaine and butter lettuce grow well from both seeds or from transplants. However, crisphead lettuce is best when grown from transplants.
When planting lettuce seeds, place them fairly shallow in the soil. Cover your seeds with 3/8 - 1/2 inch of soil. Make your rows at least 10 inches wide, with at least 20 inches between the rows.
Growing: L ettuce generally requires a lot of water. Keep you plants well irrigated unless you’re getting a decent amount of rain.
Harvesting: Harvesting your lettuce at the correct time is important for maximizing its flavor and texture. If you let your lettuce crop sit in the garden too long, it will increase in bitternessand the leaves will become tougher. Lettuce is generally ready to harvest about 80 days after planting with seeds and about 60 days after using seedlings.
If you grow romaine or butter leaf lettuce, you should first remove the outer leaves, then dig up the entire plant and cut it off at the base. This way, it’s possible to have a second crop. With leaf lettuce, simply remove the outer leaves and let the plant continue to grow. For crisphead lettuce, let the center reach full firmness before you harvest.
Culinary Uses: There are many varieties of lettuce but they are primarily used for salads and garnishes. However, there are other ways of serving lettuce like stuffing the leaves, using them as wraps as in Asian lettuce wraps, wilting it for salads and using it in soup.
Mixing lettuce with other salad herbs like arugula, garden cress create salads with more depth of flavor.