After the first of the year, it is always refreshing to see seed and nursery catalogs coming in the mail.
One of the vegetables I always grow and love to fix in different ways is lettuce. I usually only get a few cuttings because I have more rabbits than you can count.
My favorite to plant is Black Seeded Simpson which is a leaf lettuce.
There are five types of lettuce: leaf, romaine, crisphead, butterhead and stem (also called asparagus lettuce).
Leaf lettuce is the most widely adapted type producing crisp leaves loosely arranged on the stalk. Almost all gardens have a row or two of this type making it the most widely planted salad vegetable.
Romaine, or Cos, forms upright, elongated heads and is a great addition to salads and sandwiches.
The butterhead varieties are generally small, loose-heading types that have tender, soft leaves with a delicate sweet flavor.
Stem lettuce forms an enlarged seed stalk that is used mainly in stewed, creamed and Chinese dishes.
Lettuce is a cool-weather vegetable and starting it early in the spring is essential or start late summer for cool fall weather. There are some heat tolerant varieties which may be grown in the shade of taller crops through most of the summer.
When storing your lettuce, rinse before eating, not before storing, to prevent spoilage and mold growth. Be sure you do not store lettuce with apples, pears or bananas because of the ethylene gas they produce (a natural ripening agent) that will cause the lettuce to decay quickly.
Due to the high water content, 94.9 percent, there are no successful methods of long-term home preservation for lettuce.
The nutritional value of lettuce varies with the variety. Lettuce in general provides small amounts of dietary fiber, some carbohydrates, a little protein and a trace of fat.
Its most important nutrients are vitamin A and potassium. Lettuce, except iceberg, is also a moderately good source of vitamin C, calcium, iron and copper.
The spine and ribs provide dietary fiber, while vitamins and minerals are concentrated in the delicate leaf portion.
One cup of raw leaf lettuce torn in pieces, contains 9 calories, 1.3 grams of dietary fiber, 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrates, 162 milligrams of potassium, some Vitamin A, C, calcium and iron. Dark green lettuce leaves always indicate higher fiber, flavor and nutritional value.
You should tear lettuce leaves not cut them, even though most people chop it. I was taught this in 4-H when I gave a demonstration at the fair on how to make a salad. The damaged cut lettuce leaves release an ascorbic acid oxidase, which destroys vitamin C.
Here is a recipe I enjoy:Curly Leaf Lettuce, Avocado and Bacon Salad 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 large egg (hard-boiled and peeled) 3 cups loosely packed red leaf lettuce (washed and dried) 3 cups loosely packed green leaf lettuce (washed and dried) 1 ripe avocado (pitted, peeled, and roughly chopped) 3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces cooked until crisp, and drained 1 green onion, very thinly sliced
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Chop or coarsely grate the egg and add it to the dressing. Refrigerate, covered, until needed. Combine the lettuces in a large serving bowl. Add the avocado, bacon and green onion. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to combine well. Serve immediately.
Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.