Thursday, August 28, 2008

Garden Bounty: Lettuce Surprises

One of the things I was looking forward to this summer was my lettuce crop. I planted two rows of romaine, and they were among the first plants to sprout up out of the ground. But, they were also, therefore, among the seedlings at most risk during our June snow/monsoons and general late growing season. For a week in June, I was covering my lettuce plants with cardboard so that frost/snow/hail didn't kill them off.

Well, they survived! The plants didn't get too big, though, in comparison to the heads of romaine you see in the grocery store. But, who cares? Size isn't everything, right? Right?

I don't know. What I do know is that lettuce at my local overpriced grocery store goes for between 89 - 99 cents per head, and for the last two summers, the lettuce available in the stores has been crappy - really crappy. Brown-edged, buggy, slimy, and without much shelf life. Last week at work, when I was washing the lettuce for the next day's sandwiches, I had to throw quite a bit of our three heads of leaf lettuce away because it was in such rough shape. And it wasn't just at the local overpriced place; everywhere seems to have icky lettuce this year. I have also noticed that other produce has been looking iffy as well. I couldn't find a decent potato two weeks ago locally, but did find a couple that were OK at Save-On Foods, which is in Nelson, and hour away from here. Cabbage has looked off, as have peppers. Many of the apples at my local place also have appeared on the sketchy side. I don't know what is going on, but it's pretty bad. I was hoping to have beautiful lettuce that I didn't have to pay for.

I got more than I was bargaining for.

The big thing I haven't liked about gardening is the bugs. I'm not an insect fan. I planted marigolds in hopes of warding off some of the nasty beasties, but to no avail. My lettuce has been crawling with ants, wasps, earwigs, spiders, beetles, and God only knows what else. Someone - I have no idea who - laid some eggs. I was not happy to see this, and needless to say, I got rid of this leaf immediately and checked all other leaves extremely closely so that I wouldn't be ingesting any extra protein. This was lettuce surprise number 1.

Number 2 was the fact that when I went to cut off the leaves from the plant, a milky white substance oozed forth from where the stems attached to the rest of the plant. It looked like dandelion milk. When I think of dandelion milk, I also think ew, because...well, just because. So, when I saw romaine milk, I was all of a sudden put off my own lettuce.

Surprise number 3 was pleasant: lettuce regenerates itself after you cut the leaves from the plant. I had no idea this would happen. Who'd've thunk it? Certainly not I. I was just expecting to have a finite amount of romaine and I was fine with that. It looks, however, that I'll have more than I know what to do with.

Finally, the verdict. I made my favourite lettuce dish, Caesar Salad. I used Renee's light Caesar dressing, some organic croutons I bought cross border shopping the other week, and some parmeasan from the local overpriced grocery store. I made sure my lettuce was extra squeeky clean and free of unwanted reproductive deposits.

Unfortunately, I didn't like it. It was tough and bitter and I nearly cried because I was so looking forward to it! I could barely chew it. Now, I'll have to pawn off my lettuce to anyone unsuspecting enough to take it from me. I don't know if the newer, regenerated stuff will be better, but man...What I had just wasn't good.

Am I back to grocery store lettuce? I'm not sure yet. I just know that if I plant a garden again next year (still undecided on that front) I will try another variety of this veggie.


Border Life said...

I always grill too tough romaine, or cut the "spine"? lengthwise and then stick it in a soup, kinda like using a chard. My mother *pickles* romaine in a spicy Miso dressing. Not sure if any of the above methods will help with the bitter though...

Wandering Coyote said...

I've had grilled romaine and it was OK, however not something I'd go out of my way to prepare (and besides, I don't really have a grill). There is something odd to me about cooking lettuce. A Chinese place near me puts regular iceberg lettuce in their won-ton soup and it was very weird.


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