[Please note, if you read this post over at my new site, you’ll get more pictures and a better picture of which lettuce is which.]
Every Monday Daphne over at Daphne’s Dandelions hosts Harvest Monday, where those of us who are into such things may take delight in the sharing of our various garden successes. This early in the season, my harvests are rare and tiny… but celebrated all the more in this house because of their rarity. Fresh produce this early in the year tastes like a delicacy to me.
Perhaps these baby lettuce leaves are a delicacy, if you forget the current definition which refers to the costliness of a particular food item and go all the way back to the 1580s, when the term meant “tender loveliness.” That’s a perfect description for this week’s harvest.
These tender leaves were snipped from the seedlings that have grown on a corner of our kitchen table since mid-January. I planted them too early for transplanting at the proper stage. (Yes, I was impatient, but the uncooperative weather compounded my mistake.)
The few that first made it outdoors promptly got eaten by the birds. Several more ended up in a terracotta pot which could be yanked indoors when the temperatures dropped into the low 20s, but the birds got them, too. The latest transplants seem to have made it past premature bird-death (Leo killed a feathered interloper yesterday, which made me horribly sad, but just might improve their chances). Yet with a 100% chance of sleet and snow tomorrow, I’m not too confident they’ll survive until Wednesday. Honestly, I’d rather the birds eat them so they don’t go to waste.
Most of the remaining seedlings are getting leggy and crowded on the corner of our kitchen table. They’ve become friendly presences by now, quite pretty and with each variety showing off a much more individual personality than in the early days of seedlinghood.
To give you an idea of how F. feels about them, as I got out my scissors, he said, “I can’t watch you mutilate them,” and fled the room.
I didn’t mutilate them, of course. They just got pruned very precisely. With loose leaf lettuces (all but the Speckled Bibb, where whole plants got thinned instead), one may cut off a few leaves at any time and not prevent the lettuce from continuing to grow and develop normally. In the climate we live in, loose leaf lettuces are the best choice because heading lettuces require cool temperatures to develop their heads.
F. didn’t get this detailed explanation; he was simply told the baby lettuces had had their first haircut and presented with a bowl of salad at dinner.
We had a guest with us, and everyone was asked to identify a favorite lettuce in the evening’s salad and to explain why. We ended up sounding like a bunch of wine-tasters discussing our preferred vintages.
Of course, F. preferred the European heirloom “Cracoviensis.” It’s been his special pet since the start, and as it’s colored up with sunset orange deepening to red and burgundy tones, it’s only gotten more of his attention and approval. We all agreed that it had a wonderful, rich taste and a good texture, however, so I don’t think his choice can be put down to simple prejudice.
Our guest selected the “Speckled Bibb” leaves, claiming she enjoyed their nutty flavor and that their beauty in the salad bowl was unsurpassed. Strangely, I didn’t perceive a nutty flavor (such as one might find in Arugula, for instance), but I had to agree about their attractiveness. Naturally. She and I are both freckled everywhere the sun has ever shone, so we might be biased in favor of this spectacularly spotted green.
My personal favorite, surprisingly, was the “Australian Yellow” variety. The leaves are pretty enough, a bit shimmery and ruffled, exactly the color of the flesh of a cucumber. I’d renamed her ‘Goldilocks’ in a previous post, if you recall, but the nickname didn’t stick. Instead, “Blondie” emerged as her true nickname over time. It definitely matches her vivacious, slightly girly personality.
But I was predisposed to dislike her leaves because they are already showing some signs of tip burn, and I really don’t want the headache of figuring out the cause. None of the other seedlings has this problem, and it’s been worrying me a little.
If the leaves had tasted so-so or even average, I might not have bothered planting any more Australian Yellow. Instead, they were lovely, oh so delicate, and sweet. Their fine texture and flavor stood out beautifully in the mix, especially when paired with the darker taste of the European heirloom Cracoviensis.
For those who don’t know, tip burn is when the edges or margins of a leaf turn brown and basically die. You’ve probably seen this on some lettuce in the grocery store. There is no cure, only preventative measures that may be taken, and the condition appears to be related to a variety of causes, including dry air, calcium deficiency, and the ph of the soil. I’m hoping the problem will be cured by growing this lovely heirloom outdoors, and I plan to direct sow some more of it as soon as conditions are favorable.
You may be wondering why no one had much to say about “Drunken Woman,” the poor dear. Well, my first transplanting experiment was of this variety, and she’s been mostly wiped out by marauding birds and unfriendly weather. There are only four transplants left, and so I cut each of us exactly one leaf to taste. However, it was hard to draw a conclusion based upon a single baby leaf.
We all agreed to withhold judgment until she’s had a chance to grow up a little. Her looks are certainly promising; she’s as ruffled as her Australian counterpart and her base color is even paler, but with a soft wash of bronze shading up and over each leaf as it matures. (No seductive shimmer, though.)