Lia's Popular Salad Recipe   |   Growing Tips

For the Love of Lettuce
If there is any one vegetable that tickles the eye as much as the tastebuds, it has got to be lettuce. The astonishing array of round, tall, red, green, flat, wavy, crunchy, tender, juicy, sweet lettuce leaves can leave the true lettuce-junkie breathless.

Lettuce was a big hit with the ancient Egyptians, who carved scenes of lettuce cultivation on their tomb walls. The Romans ate it tossed with hot oil and vinegar and named it latuca, (milk) in reference to the milky juice in its stems. The emperor Diocletian gave up his throne to cultivate lettuce. He rejected efforts to change his mind, stating, "If you saw what beautiful lettuces I am raising, you would not urge me to take up that burden again."

Growing different varieties of lettuce is like gaining a whole new circle of friends, each with its own personality. 

Tall, stately romaine, with its straight shoulders and crisp, compact head, can be enjoyed in its usual green leafed form, or as a lively bronze-red variety such as Cimarron. Don't miss the red-freckled Forellenschuss, an Austrian heirloom romaine whose name refers to the speckles on a trout's back. 

I melt for Buttercrunch, each leaf softly folding over the next on small, tender heads. It's perfect with ripe pears and gorgonzola-topped croutons. Merveille des Quatre Saisons, an old French favorite since the 1880s, is a delicious, cold-tolerant butterhead with lovely red-tinged leaves.

Amongst the loose-leaf lettuces, try the aptly named Oakleaf, with deeply lobed light green leaves. Black Seeded Simpson dates back to 1875. Its large, pale green, wavy leaves add to its appeal as an early and dependable producer. And who can resist Lollo Rossa with its exuberant red head of wildly ruffled leaves?

Each of these wonders comes from a tiny seed, black, brown or white. Give it a loose, fertile soil with lots of compost, and this vegetable will reward you with a bountiful harvest in 2 months or less. If you don't have a garden, try a few plants in a windowsill or flower pot by the kitchen door.

I plant lettuce from September through May. A cold frame or solar cone will protect it through all but the coldest of our winters, and will also warm up the soil for early spring planting. Direct seed or start it in flats and transplant out. Barely cover the seed, and water until seedlings emerge. Lettuce is 90% water and has shallow roots. Frequent watering will keep it sweet and succulent. 

As Eliot Coleman says in his book "Four Season Harvest", "The fact that a plant this lovely is also the foundation of three seasons of salads is proof that nature is benign and generous.”

The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet. People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know that the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy light of morning when gardens are at their best… Eating with the fullest pleasure-- pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance-- is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend."  -- Wendell Berry, from his essay "The Pleasures of Eating" in What Are People For?

               Issue # 4 - Summer 2004

Exhibits & Classes
I'm teaching a week-long fiber arts camp for 9-12 year olds at City Arts Center, August 2-6. We had a fantastic time last summer, and this year, in addition to weaving inkle shoelaces and learning to spin, the kids will have a chance to try out indigo dyeing and weave mini "magic carpets". Call 951-0000 to enroll.

My next adult weaving classes at City Arts Center begin July 6th. During the 8 week session, students learn the fundamentals of weaving while making a sampler or table runner. Table loom and supplies are provided, cost is $104. We meet Tuesdays 7-9 pm or Thursdays 10-12 noon. Enroll at 951-0000.

This summer I'm delighted to offer a "Taste of Weaving" thru the Metropolitan Library System's free "Summer at the Library" program for teens/young adults. Try out a wide variety of small looms, and take home what you weave! Join me at Midwest City on June 17 at 2pm or at Warr Acres on July 24 at 4pm. Call Heidi at 235-9223 ext.30 for details.

I've had such fun with our kids weaving classes at the Learning Tree! For 8-12 year olds, at 7646 N. Western. We make tapestry mug rugs, inkle
bookmarks, and belts on backstrap looms. Call 848-1415 if you're interested.

My photo-fiber construction "Remembering" was honored with Best of Show in Fiberworks at City Arts Center this spring. This two layer organdy hanging is a reflection on the intimate history and role of weaving in our lives.

Six of my vegetable photo quilts are currently on view in an exhibit of art quilts at the lovely new Artsplace Gallery at 319 East Grand Avenue in Ponca City, (580) 763-3769.

The enclosed postcard shows a detail from my latest quilt, "A Salad Ballad.” It is 8th in a series of photo quilts, celebrating the beauty and diversity of the vegetable world.

Food Cooperative connects producers and consumers

Last fall, a wonderful new cooperative venture began, called "Oklahoma Food." This non-profit marketing network matches up Oklahoma farmers and consumers. Available items include fresh vegetables, ranch meats grown without herbicides and pesticides, cheeses, jellies, salsas, nuts, eggs from non-caged chickens and much more. Order monthly or bi-monthly directly from the farmers, and pick up your food a week later. 

The purpose of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative is to create a business fostering social justice, economic viability and environmental sustainability. Oklahoma Food provides us with the unique opportunity to relate directly with the farmers and families who raise our food. Here is a chance to buy locally, support family farmers and a healthier agriculture, and enjoy great fresh food!

  • The typical plate of food in the U.S. has traveled 1,500 miles from source to table, 22% more than in 1980.

  • Simply buying 10% of our most common fruits and vegetables locally would save more than 300,000 gallons of fossil fuel and keep up to 8 million pounds of CO2 from being emitted.

  • Less than 10 cents of every dollar we spend at the grocery store goes to the farmer.

If you're tired of the "nutritionally challenged" food at chain supermarkets, try Oklahoma Food! Call 613-4688 or  

Lia's Popular Salad

My most popular salad recipe!  It puts to rest any notion that lettuce is just for rabbits. I have never seen anyone able to stop at just one helping of this salad.

Salad ingredients:
-- Several different heads of homegrown, just picked lettuce. You can substitute store-bought lettuce, but it won't be the same.

-- Other freshly picked greens as desired (sorrel, spinach, mizuna, arugula, etc.) 

-- Feta (Mediterranean Deli on May and NW 56th has excellent feta)

-- Pine nuts or walnuts, carrots and dried tomatoes. 

Salad Dressing:  
Annie's Tomato-Porcini is wonderful, or make your own. Blend these ingredients together in blender until smooth:

-- 1-2 garlic cloves

-- Handful of fresh basil (and a bit of parsley if you have it)

-- Several softened, chopped dried tomatoes

-- 1/4 cup olive oil

-- 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Gently rinse and dry the greens. Soak dried tomatoes in very hot water for 10-15 minutes or until soft. Chop. Toast nuts in a dry skillet until just barely browned. Chop carrots. Crumple up feta. Toss greens together with salad dressing, then add other ingredients. Proceed directly to salad-eating heaven!

Lia's Growing Tips

This is my experience in growing lettuce here in Central Oklahoma.

As with most veggies, a fertile, loose soil is key. Add lots of compost, water it and wait a week or so for the weed seeds to germinate, then turn them into the soil with a trowel. Plant seed and just barely cover with fine soil or compost. Water daily until seedlings appear, then water every few days or weekly after that. Seed can be broadcast for "cut-and-come-again": cut leaves 1" above the ground when plants are still small. Add some more compost, water, and watch as the plant grows again for a 2nd or even 3rd harvest.

Lettuce can also be started in flats and transplanted out. This is especially good for growing full size heads, or when the soil temperature outside is too warm (lettuce germinates poorly when soil is over 75 degrees.)

I begin planting lettuce in February under solar cones or cold frames, and continue planting small patches every 2-3 weeks after that. By late March, the first batch is ready for harvest. My last spring planting is in May, for a June crop of baby greens. Lettuce prefers cool weather, and will get bitter and go to seed during our hot summers.

In September, as soon as the drought and heat ease, I'll begin planting again every few weeks until late fall. As the weather cools, lettuce will gradually harden off. Also, with the shorter daylight hours, lettuce grows much more slowly. By providing it with some kind of protection (i.e. solar cones, reemay "garden cloth", or a cold frame), we can harvest lettuce for most of the winter. The red lettuces seem particularly hardy. If temps drop to the teens and below, we'll harvest the rest of the crop and then rely on hardier winter greens such as spinach, mizuna and mache to keep our winter salad bowl full.

Saving Seed

Lettuce, along with the sunflower, artichoke and daisy, is a member of the far-ranging compositae family. All share the characteristic of producing flowers on a seed stalk that grows from the center of the plant. Lettuce is an easy plant with which to venture into the world of seed-saving. As the weather gets hot, the plant will bolt (go to seed); a stalk begins growing at the center of the head and will eventually form tiny flowers. When the seeds become dry, top the plant with a paper sack, hold tight around the stem, and shake vigorously. Much of what you get will be seed chaff; remove if desired by shaking seed thru a fine mesh screen. Store lettuce seed in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 3 years.


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