Lettuce

Answering a Reader’s Question

Derek left a question for me in the comments area of the last post. 

He writes: “I notice you grow a lot of lettuce varieties which, as you have said, is good for many reasons. I am curious if there is one lettuce you really like best overall, based on flavor alone?

Had he left out the part about “based on flavor alone” my immediate answer would be Winter Density. 

But that answer involves more than taste.  

Winter Density does well for spring plantings and well into summer if you follow my advice in this post.   (More instructions are in posts listed at the end.)

It loves the fall as well.  And with a bit of protection you can be eating it all winter.

Most of the time its seed is easy to collect. 

Overall it’s a very dependable and beautiful lettuce and delicious tossed with a drizzle of oil and vinegar.

As Don pointed out in his comment — sometimes it will make it through the winter without protection and make a comeback to it’s beautiful self the following spring. 

(I had that happen to me last year when the covers blew off the frames during the coldest nights we had that winter.)

What those last words based on flavor alone” had me doing.

After 42 years of growing and eating many varieties, those last words of Derek’s question  had me out in the garden taste testing the few lettuce varieties in my early spring garden. (Winter Density, Reine des Glaces, and a beautiful Oak Leaf.) 

“Why?”  You Might Ask

Because as much lettuce as I grow and as much as I love lettuce — I really did not want the answer to be what it is. So I was trying hard to really analyze the taste of each just to be sure I was not misusing the word I use further down to describe the taste.

But the truth is —— based on taste alone — and with no oil and vinegar dressing – my favorite “lettuce” is really not a lettuce. As far as I know it’s just referred to as a cold weather salad green.

Have You Guessed It?

For those who’ve been reading TMG for years — you’ve probably already guessed my answer — It’s MACHE!  The best salad green on the planet in my opinion.

And as Harold pointed out in his comment that sings the praises of Mache — when it comes up in the fall and winter it germinates almost as if it had been succession sown.  So harvest is over a long period.

The Taste of Lettuce

The fact is — to my taste — all lettuce has a bitter taste without a drizzle of oil and vinegar. And that includes the top 3 favorites growing in the garden now and that I mentioned above.

Add an oil and vinegar dressing and Reine des Glaces would even beat out Winter Density as a favorite because of the most delicious crispness it adds to a salad.   It’s a great compliment to any other variety.

A Surprise cross pollinating of Deer Tongue and a Romaine

In  Rob D’s comment he mentioned an amazing happening in his garden a couple of years back.

He grew an old variety – Deer Tongue – and a Romaine (Winter Density is also a Romaine) and they cross pollinated! 

He wrote that he “ended up with an interesting variety that had the growth characteristics of Deer Tongue (long “tongue like” leaves) with the crispy texture and crinkly leaves like Romaine.

Outredgeous Red and Green Deer Tongue in my garden of 2015.

I would imagine the Romaine crossing with Deer Tongue greatly improved the taste of the Deer Tongue.  I grew that variety for many years. (It’s available as green or red.) 

A story that indicates to me that I’m not alone in my opinion.

Many farmers in our area  grow crops only for market such as corn, soy beans, wheat, and canola. My observation is they don’t bother much with a vegetable garden except for maybe green beans and tomatoes. 

A young friend of mine (now 30 years old) is the son of such a farmer. From what I can gather — they’re most likely meat eaters with veggies (if any) on the side. Don’t think they grow any lettuces.

Years ago my young friend did not  (and still doesn’t) recognize most vegetable plants in my garden. But he knows Mache  — as I introduced him to it about 10 years ago. And he loved it!

Recently

About two weeks ago we were in my garden.  I reached for some Mache and gave it to him.  He thoroughly enjoyed it  — no dressing necessary.

Then I pinched off two beautiful leaves from my Reine des Glaces which I consider a prized lettuce and offered it.

Reine des Glaces lettuce

He ate it.  

I said, “Good isn’t it?

His reply, “Not like mache!

Mache in late winter

Final thought

My question to all of you (and you too Derek) what’s your favorite lettuce?  AND do you enjoy it without a dressing?

For more information on how to have lettuce almost all summer the following posts should be helpful:

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-in-100-degree-heat/

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-secrets-to-getting-eatable-lettuce-well-into-summer/ I doubt you’ll see this information anywhere else.

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-harvesting-for-dinner-on-july-16th/

https://tendingmygarden.com/addendum-to-the-post-lettuce-harvesting-for-dinner-on-july-16th/

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-variety-is-one-secret-to-enjoying-it-well-into-summer/

https://tendingmygarden.com/lettuce-eating-fresh-even-after-it-stalks/

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5 Comments

  • A thought provoking post!
    The mache growing in my garden never gets big enough to really harvest. It is no bigger than one of my finger nails.
    I really love to grow lettuce and use it for meals. In early spring my favorite to use in place of lettuce (for the taste and texture) is various mustards and Swiss chard. As spring advances into summer my favorite turns to green ice for flavor and texture. So far I haven’t been able to keep any going through winter, but I’m working on it. I did have some delicious Swiss chard last winter until we had multiple hard freezes in a row.
    Now I’ll be focusing on lettuces more to see if my tastes change also, if I can bring them through the winter.
    Thank you for the motivation Theresa!

  • Thanks. This was a great article. It has been a while since I have grown mache but will have to give it another try this coming fall. I do prefer a dressing of some kind with most of the lettuce that I eat, though I do like snacking on it occasionally when out in the garden – plain, of course. I really like most of the lettuce varieties you grow such as winter density, sierra, and anuenue. I ordered a pkt. of reine des glaces (ice queen) after reading your last article. It sounds like a great one. I also really like nevada, which is exceptionally heat tolerant, little gem, and tom thumb. I cannot say I have a favorite based only on flavor but will try and pay more attention this season.
    I really enjoy all of your articles and always look forward to the latest.

  • I had never been much of a lettuce eater until possibly 15-20 years ago. Somewhere I picked up some Little Gem seeds and lettuce arrived. It’s a small Romaine and looks like kind of a head and leaf combo. Best picked in morning and holds crispness well, even if in fridge for next day. I cut it just before full development and Marg washes it, spins it and gets as much as she can between bread with just mayonnaise and I’ve reached lettuce paradise. I am a salad eater and it works well there also. I think it’s impossible to give much advice on taste because we all have varying tastes and some veggies add to the enjoyment eating because we find fun in watching them grow. I just never found fun growing lettuce till I found Little Gem. Do I like it because of flavour, crispness or because I like to grow it? Who cares just enjoy gardening.

    Ray Kent

  • Hiya Theresa!
    I’m with you. All lettuce is bitter without dressing.
    So far my favorite lettuce is something called Slobolt that came off the seed rack at Rural King a few years back. It’s a crinkly loose leaf. The current batch is growing from saved seed. It does well pretty much year round, with a hiatus in the worst heat of summer. I also really like Butter Crunch.
    My luck with Winter Density has been spotty so far. A few made it through the winter and are getting big now and I have more in wintersown jugs to plant out later. Will keep on trying since it’s a favorite of yours.
    I think in part it’s cause my soil still leaves a lot to be desired. But eventually it will be better from organic matter being continuously added. Getting there, just a slower process than better living through chemistry was.
    There’s another variety growing that I have no idea what it is. It has a copperish hue on light green leaves. Will see what it turns into as it gets bigger.
    There are enough shady spots in my garden I should be able to grow tons of lettuce late into the year. 2022 seemed to be my best year for lettuce, making good use of said shady places, last year not so much, due to a hungry racoon. Better luck this year, I guess! Every year is an adventure in the garden. Never gets boring, or even predictable for that matter….
    Take care and God bless,
    Harold

  • Hi Theresa, I really enjoyed both this and the previous post! And the comments too!
    I didn’t grow a lot of lettuce until I found you and TMG – your love of lettuce inspired me to grow more and experiment with different varieties – including mache of course, which we love! In our old house it was sparse the first year, but abundant the second, then we moved.. in the new house last year again only a couple of seeds germinated and matured, but this year I can already see it popping up in multiple places! I can’t wait! But we enjoyed it even when there was not much to use: we found that adding even just a few small leaves in a salad helps enriching the flavor, kind of like basil in summer.
    Regarding lettuce, I must say that Reine des Glaces is my favorite so far for flavor and texture (thank you for suggesting it to me last year!). Deer Tongue grows very easily for me and it’s my favorite backup, especially in spring/summer.
    Unfortunately we haven’t been able to find Winter Density seeds here in New Zealand yet!!!
    I don’t know if rocket (arugula) qualifies for this, but if it does, it is in my top 3 🙂
    This was fun, thank you Theresa!

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