< Vegetables



Sometime in the mid sixteenth century (the year 1562 is sometimes given), the lettuce appeared as a luxury item on the English table. It probably came to England from Greece by way of Italy. It quickly established a place in the kitchen gardens of the nobility, cultivated as a ‘cooling condiment’ whose influence would conduce to balance the humors in one’s diet. The Galenic medicine of that era recommended that it be combined with a hot element, hence the administration of an acid. John Evelyn, in his landmark treatise on salads, Acetaria (1699), argued that lettuce and the related vegetables whose quality for humans is fulfilled by being married with vinegar or the juice of citrus fruits, should be reckoned as food, not an adornment to the tables of the wealthy. Citing the diet of Eden in the Bible, Evelyn gave lettuce a prominent place in the all vegetable diet that reflected holiness as wealth as health. The milky sap of the lettuce, pressed from the plant began to be used as a treatment for dropsy in 1771. It was also thought to induce sleep.

Because of the demand for lettuce, gardeners conducted serial plantings from February to the end of September to have it at market as long as possible. It preferred cooler temperatures, so operated as a winter garden crop in the south. It ranked among the most intensively cultivated plants among the glass house gardeners that surrounded major cities during the nineteenth century. Grown from seed, the were frequently begun in hotbeds, transplanted to a nursery bed, and later into a garden bed. Soil preparation for lettuce became a particular art, with care taken to have all compost and manure thoroughly broken down, and the soil soft and rich. Plants were harvested before they bolted—before their flower stalks formed. A number of pests trouble lettuce.—aphids, thrips, and cutworms, particularly. Slugs are also quite damaging. The market resistance to wilted, spotted, and bolted lettuce was so strong, that gardeners practiced great vigilence in growing and transporting the crop to market.

The ancient Romans are thought to have known only one variety of lettuce. At the beginning of the 19th century, fifteen varieties of lettuce were generally recognized in Europe. Of these, the most common in cultivation was the Cabbage lettuce (sometimes known as Garden lettuce) for its headed cluster of leaves. Also in wide cultivation were the Silesian, Imperial, Royal Black, and White Cos-lettuse (this last known now under the general designation of Romaine), Blck Cos lettuce (a large grower), Dutch Brown, and Green Capuchin. The Cos lettuces were viewed as cruder and more bitter than the cabbage head varieties, and consequently invited dressings that married sugar with vinegar. The Varieties available in 1841 are listed in the Varieties section, as listed in the Southern Agriculturist in 1841.

White Cos    History

Green Cos     History

- Both excellent for the main crop in summer.

Green or Egyptian Cos (black seed,)    History

- a lettuce of the greatest utility in dry seasons. Not being apt to run to seed like the two former, it should therefore always be sown either with or both of them; it is of a hardy nature, and stands the winter nearly as well as the next variety.

Brown or Bath Cos    History

- a good hardy lettuce to stand the winter in the open round. There are two varieties, the dwarf and tall; the dwarf is the best; and hearts much better and sooner than the other, and is less apt to run to seed in dry season.

Brighton Cos    History

- This lettuce was strongly recommended to the author by Mr. W. Rogers, who considers it of first rate quality and form. From the specimens which the author has seen of it, he pronounces it excellent.

Florence Cos    History

- very large and fine when well turned up, which, however, takes a long time to accomplish. It has a peculiarly pleasant crisp taste, and from its lateness will be found a most useful lettuce, when others are running fast to seed. It requires a strong, light, rich, sandy soil, as its growth is but indifferent, though it be frequently watered.

Spotted or Aleppo Cos    History

- This lettuce, in moist seasons, and planted in a strong rich soil, will be tolerably fine, and a few may be planted for a change and succession. In light soils and dry summers it runs too quickly to seed, before being properly cabbaged.

Brown Silicea    History

White Silecea    History

- These two varieties of lettuce are esteemed the best for stewing, particularly the white; they are rather too coarse for salads. There are three other sorts of Cos lettuce in cultivation; the Paris, Golden, and Dwarf Siberian, all very good, and can be planted occasionally as extra crops for the sake of variety, succession, &c.

Brown Dutch    History

- a well-known [cabbage] lettuce, hardly, and resists the severity of the winter; it is almost equal to the Hammersmith variety. There is another variety with yellow seed, of late introduction; it is a good lettuce, and, in crispness, superior to the brown.

Imperial Cabbage Lettuce    History

Grand Admirable Lettuce    History

- Two of the finest cabbage lettuces we have for salads during the summer months. They heart well, and continue longer in use than any other of the cabbage lettuce varieties.

Large White Cabbage Lettuce    History

- serviceably; turns in well, and withstands the drought of summer, as well as the best of those varieties.

Marseilles    History

- similar in properties to the Florence, requires a strong rich soil.

Malta     History

- The seed of this sort was given to the author by a gentleman from that island. It produces uncommonly large heads, rather of a rambling nature, but the blanched parts are crisp, and of a pleasant taste; it has not that bitterness which others are liable to. To have this lettuce in perfection in the early part of summer, it should be sown on a slight heat in the beginning of March, and afterwards transplanted in a cool rich spot of ground, at full eighteen inches apart.

Dutch Forcing Cabbage Lettuce (rather scarce.)    History

- There are also the Tennis-ball, Large Mogul, and Drum-head cabbage lettuces, all good tried sorts, and in general estimation for culinary purposes.

Hammersmith Hardy Green    History

- An old inhabitant, and a most useful lettuce. Southern Agriculturist, Horticulturist, and Register of Rural Affairs 6 (June 1841), 311-312.

Lettuce Salad (Skilful Housewife’s Book 1852)    History

Strip off the outside leaves, split it and lay in cold water awhile. Drain and lay in a salad dish. Have ready two hard boiled eggs, cut in two and loy on the leaves. If you choose, it may be dressed with sugar and vingegar, with a little salt, before it goes to the table. Some prefer a dressing of salt, mustard, loaf sugar, and vinegar, sweet oil, and a mashed hard boiled egg. With the salad cut fine, and this over it. (p. 109)

Lettuce, or Salad (Centennial Cook Book 1876)    History

Break the leaves apart one by one from the stalk and throw them into a pan of cold water, rinse them well, lay them into a salad bowl or a deep dish, lay the largest leaves first, put the next size upon them, then lay on the finest white leaves, cut hard boiled eggs in slices or quarters and lay them at equal distances around the edge and over the salad; serve with vinegar, oil, and made mustard in the castor. (p. 93)

Summer Salad (Common Sense in the Household 1874)    History

3 heads of lettuce.
2 teaspoonfuls of green mustard leaves
A handful of water-cresses.
4 or 5 very tender radishes
1 cucumber
3 h ard boiled eggs
2 teaspoonfuls white sugar
1 teaspoonful salt
1 teaspoonful pepper
1 teaspoonful made mustard
1 teacupful vinegar
2 tablespoonfuls salad oil
Mix the dressing as for lettuce salad. Cut up the hearts of the lettuce, the radishes and cucumber, into very small pieces; chop the mustard and cress. Pour over these the dressing, tossing very lightly, not to bruise the young leaves; heap in a salad-bowl upon a lump of ice, and garnish with fennel-heads and nasturtium-blossoms. This is a delightful accompaniment to boiled or baked fish. (p. 205)

Stewed Lettuces (Balou’s Magazine 1858)    History

Strip off the outer leaves, and cut away the stalks; wash the lettuces with exceeding nicety, and throw them into water salted as for all green vegetables. When they are quite tender, which will be in from twenty to thirty minutes, according to their age, lift them out, and press the water thoroughly from them, chop them a little, and heat them in a clean saucepan, with a seasoning of pepper and salt, and a small slice of butter; then dredge in a little flour, and stir them well; add next a small cup of broth or gravy, boil them quickly until they are tolerably dry, then stir in a little pale vinegar or lemon-juice, and serve them as hot as possible. Balou’s 8, 2 (August 1858), 190.

Stewed Lettuce (What to Eat 1863)    History

How to prepare—Take off the outer leaves, clean and wash well, throw them in boiling water with a little salt, boil ten minutes, and drain dry.

[Version #1]When prepared sprinkle on the top of each, salt, pepper, and a little grated nutmeg; then tie each head with a string. Place in a stewpan tow or three slices of bacon, put the heads of lettuce in, season with two sprigs of parsley, one of thyme, a bay leaf, and a clove, also salt, and pepper; cover with water, and simmer about two hours in an oven; then take them from the pan, drain, pressing on them to extract all the water, and put them on a dish, the top upward. Have butter in a stew pan, an on a good fire; when melted, sprinkle in it a teaspoonful of flour, stirring with a wooden spoon; subdue the fire, add a little milk, and stir and simmer ten minutes longer; take from the fire, mix in it the beaten yolks of two eggs, pour it on the lettuce, which you have kept warm, and serve.

[Version #2] When prepared, chop it fine. Put in a stewpan, for four heads of lettuce, three ounces of butter, and set it on the fire; when melted, put the lettuce in with a little chopped chervil, stir now and then till cooked; then sprinkle in it a pinch of flour, wet with broth, boil ten minutes longer, keeping it stirred, and serve. (pp. 184-85)

Lettuce Peas (Godeys Lady’s Book Receipts 1870)    History

Having washed four lettuces and stripped off the outside leaves, take the hearts and chop them up very fine; put them into a stewpan with two quarts of freshly-shelled green peas, a few lumps of loaf sugar and a few leaves of green mint, finely minced. Add a slice of cold ham, and a quarter of a pound of butter, divided into four pieces and rolled in flour, two tablespoonfuls of water and a pinch of black pepper. Let all stew for half an hour, or longer, if the peas are not tender. Take out the ham and add half a pint of cream. Stew five minutes longer, and serve hot. (pp. 178-79)

Southern Fried Lettuce (Buckeye Cookery 1877)    History

Chop lettuce and tops of two onions very fine, and add to two well-beaten; put a little sweet-oil or butter in hot frying-pan, pour in the well-beaen mixture, turn after a few moments, and serve with or without vinegar. (p 287)