Those of us with gardens may soon be able to harvest lettuces. There even may be some volunteer plants coming up here and there. If one just picks the outer leaves from the plants, and none in the center, the plant will continue to produce leaves.

Lettuce, or Lactuca sativa, is an annual member of the aster family. It is a cool season plant as hot weather turns the leaves bitter and the plant will bolt. It may also be grown in the fall.

Various varieties of lettuces may be found in grocery stores produce departments all year long as head, leaf, or pre-washed singular or variety mixes in bags. Farmer’s Markets may have different varieties of lettuces than grocery stores.

Head lettuce forms a rosette of leaves where leaf lettuces do not. Leaf lettuces do not stay crisp as long as head lettuces. The color of lettuces range from assorted shades of greens to burgundy or spotted. Different varieties contain various amounts of nutrients, antioxidants, minerals, water and fiber. The flavors may also vary from slightly bitter to sweet. There are four general varieties of lettuces: Butter Head, Crisp Head, Leaf, and Romaine or Cos.

There are many varieties of head lettuces whose heads may be loose or tight, their leaves ruffled or straight. Some types are heat tolerant and slow to bolt. The flavor ranges from sweet and succulent in Butter Head to pretty bland in Crisp Head, also known as Ice Burg.

Butter Head leaves are tender and mild and may be used as sandwich wraps or tacos. Ice Burg is generally shrink wrapped to protect its tender leaves. Wrap these varieties in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator crisper drawer before using. Wash only the amount of leaves desired and replace the paper towel when it becomes wet to prevent the rest of the head becoming slimy. Tearing the leaves is better than cutting them with a knife.

Refrigerate leaf lettuce leaves and treat like the head lettuces.

Loose leaf lettuces are more flavorful than the head ones, however, they are more perishable. Their leaf colors range from dark to light green. The darker leaves contain more vitamins and phytochemicals. Some have a maroon color on the leaves. Oak leaf lettuces have red or green colored leaves and are shaped like oak leaves.

More than 70 percent of US households are now using the prepackaged, bagged salads. They are now projected to reach $7 billion a year while the purchase of unbagged fresh lettuces have fallen by half. The prepackaged items are quick to use and eliminates waste from shelf lettuces.

The prepackaged salads require more mechanical prep work though, such as triple washing in chlorinated waters, plus tearing and slicing leaves. The product in placed in an atmospheric contained bag to prevent spoiling and browning. The bags have an expiration date on them and are quickly sent out to the proper stores.

Food borne illness contained in the bagged lettuce is very low and tests are continually done on the products to make sure it remains so. When preparing fresh lettuces in your home, be sure to do so in sanitary conditions.

There are many ingredients that can be put in a lettuce salad. Various greens; meats; bacon; fish; shrimp; cheese; hard boiled eggs; raw frozen peas; vegetables; fresh or canned fruits; canned, rinsed garbanzo beans; craisins; nuts; herbs or spices, and whatever you can think of.

Whenever you are making dressings, use a canola or olive oil; and flavored vinegars are interesting to use.

To prepare a salad ahead of time to take somewhere, one can place the dressing in the bottom of the bowl, layer the other ingredients and top with the lettuce. It can be mixed later without wilting the lettuce. As tomatoes get watery, add them at the last minute before mixing. I have also had salads when the ingredients are each placed in a separate position around the plate with lettuce on top to be mixed when served.

The dressings may come out of a prepared bottle from the store or homemade. Those are easy to do and add a different flavor to the salad. Include the dressing in the salad or served on the side.

Something to think about: “We don’t need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put different things. You want the vegetables, the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers to maintain their identity. You appreciate the difference.” - Jane Elliot

LETTUCE BACON SALAD

1 bag mixed lettuces

4 to 6 slices cooked, crumbled bacon

Water chestnuts or radishes, sliced (to taste)

1 hard boiled egg, chopped

1 small can Mandarin oranges

Salad Dressing:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped onion

1-1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Mix salad ingredients together. Process the salad dressing in a blender and add to salad.

SESAME SEED SALAD

1 head Boston Lettuce

1 bunch Bibb lettuces

1 Belgian endive

2 Tablespoons toasted croutons

Grated Provolone cheese

Dressing:

3 Tablespoons tarragon vinegar

2 small cloves garlic, minced

6 Tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons sesame seeds

Freshly ground pepper

Mix dressing ingredients together. Chill the dressing then dress the salad.

HONEY DRESSING FOR FRUIT SALAD

2/3 cups sugar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon celery seed

1/3 cup honey

5 Tablespoons vinegar

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated onion

1 cup olive oil

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the honey, vinegar, lemon juice and onion. Gradually beat in the oil using a blender or mixer. Beat until thick and creamy. Makes 1 pint.