Butterheads

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By Heidi Lewis

The bullfrogs and cicadas serenade the wide-eyed kids, whose faces glow orange in the firelight. The semicircle of Lake Lactuca campers gazes up at the tepee wall as Ranger Rhonda magics her hands into a shadow play:

“Little Bunny Foo-Foo, hopping thru the forest, scooping up the butter lettuce and bopping it on the head!” she sings.

“Ooohh!” chorus the campers as Ranger Rhonda makes a bunny’s silhouette hop across the canvas.

Not every kid is lucky enough to spend a summer at Veggie Camp—but for those who do, the bus ride home is a choir of refrains of “Kom-Bu-Cha, My Lord,” “My Bonnie Lies Over Zucchini,” and “99 Carrot Tops on the Wall.” And for those who didn’t get to go to Camp Lactuca—we have delicious tender butter lettuce in TakeHome cases this week.

Butter lettuce goes by various monikers and varieties, all rosette-style—Bibb lettuce, limestone lettuce, Boston lettuce—growing in loose heads, making a rose formation. The Romans are most often credited with taming tasty wild greens into tender lettuces, but modern horticulture has opened the field to a vast variety of tastes and textures in lettuce.

It’s called Bibb for Jack Bibb, a 19th century amateur horticulturist who bred the tender lettuce, and called limestone as a nod to the Kentucky soil where he grew his delectable greens. Limestone isn’t a soil requirement for butter lettuce, although it is heat sensitive, so plenty of water and protection from heat is needed. We may think of lettuce for salad as summer fare—but it grows best in cool weather. In summer, farmers grow lettuce under shade cloth and harvest it in the cool pre-dawn.

Preparation: Tear leaves and wash gently right before use. Dry well in salad spinner or towels. Best served chilled.

Storage: Wrap lettuce head in a damp paper towel and place in a loose plastic bag. Store in the fridge’s crisper drawer.

 

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