Agri-Stats: Lettuce

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

History

Lettuce Connections of the Etymological Kind

  • The genus for Lettuce is Lactuca, which  means “latex” in Latin. This is decriptive of the  milky, latex-like substanhce this is excuded when the stem is freshly cut. 
  • “Lettuce” is derived from Middle English, which came to use from Old French “letues” or “laities”. Note: “lait” mean milk in French. 
  • Lechuga is the spanish worjk for lettuce. It is derived from the spanish word for milk, “leche”, which, etymologically speaking, is a first cousin to the English word “lactose.”

Lettuce Count the Types (Anderson)

Note; While most plants are bontanically categorized by their inflorescence, lettuce requires additional categorization because it is grown for its vegetative parts. Therefore, it is keyed by its leaf arrangement and flavors. Here are the types of lettuces:

  1. Leaf – (aka looseleaf, cutting or bunching lettuce) – has loosely bunched leaves and is the most widely planted. It is used mainly for salads.
  2. Romaine/Cos – Used mainly for salads and sandwiches, this type forms long, upright heads.This is used in Caesar salads.
  3. Crisphead – (aka iceberg) lettuce – is very heat-sensitive and was once the king of the Salinas Valley. It ships well, but is low in flavor and nutritional content, being composed of even more water than other lettuce types.
  4. Butter – (aka Boston or Bibb) – is a head lettuce with a loose arrangement of leaves, known for its sweet flavor and tender texture.
  5. Woju (莴苣), a lettuce variety grown for its stem used in Chinese cooking
  6. Summercrisp – (aka Batavian or French Crisp) is midway between the crisphead and leaf types. These lettuces tend to be larger, bolt-resistant and well-flavored.
  7. Stem – This type is grown for its seedstalk, rather than its leaves, and is used in Asian cooking, primarily Chinese, as well as stewed and creamed dishes.
  8. Oilseed – This type is grown for its seeds, which are pressed to extract an oil mainly used for cooking. It has few leaves, bolts quickly and produces seeds around 50 percent larger than other types of lettuce.

Note: In this video, Tyler Florence discusses how to makes salads with different types of lettuces.

Lettuce Has a Long Pedigree (Henriette’s Herbal Homepage) (Further Edit)

  • 550 B.C. Herodotus reported an anecdote that lettuce appeared at the royal tables of the Persian kings.
  • 430 B.C. Its medicinal properties as a food-plant were noted by Hippocrates.
  • 356 B.C. It was praised by Aristotle. 
  • 322 B.C. It was described by Theophrastus and Dioscorides.
  • 42 A.D. Among the Romans, the  Columella, Caecilian, Cappadocian, Cyprian and Tartesan varieties of lettuce were very popular. 
  • 79 A. D. Pliny enumerates lettuce varieties: Alba, Caecilian, Cappadocian, Crispa, Graeca, Laconicon, Nigra, Purpurea and Rubens.
  • 164 A.D. It was mentioned by Galen, who describes its general use. 
  • 210 A.D. Palladius mentions the process of blanching.  
  • 101 A.D. Martial  gives to the lettuces of Cappadocia the term viles, or cheap, implying abundance. 
  • 400s A.D. Its presence can be identified in China.
  • About 1340: In England, Chaucer,  uses the word in his prologue, “ell loved the garlic, onions and lettuce,”
  • 1538: Lettuce is likewise mentioned by Turner, who spells the word lettuse. 
  • 1492: Christopher Columbus brought lettuce to the New World
  • 1494: It is mentioned by Peter Martyr as cultivated on Isabela Island.
  • 1538: Lettuce is likewise mentioned by Turner, who spells the word lettuse. 
  • 1565:  Benzoni speaks of lettuce as abounding in Haiti.
  • 1647: Nieuhoff saw it cultivated in Brazil. 
  • 1806: McMahon catalogs American gardens sorts of lettuces.
  • 1828: Thorburn’s seed catalog offered 13 kinds of lettuces.
  • 1881: there are 23 kinds of documented domestic lettuce varieties.
  • 1883: Vilmorin describes 113  kinds of distinct varieties.
  • 1885: In the report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station. 87 varieties are described with 585 names of synonyms.

Lettuce Has Had Fanciful Names Over the Years (Anderson)

1726 – Imperial (butterhead type),
1806 – Hardy Green Winter/Hammersmith butterhead type) , Boston Curled W.S.(looseleaf), Batavia Brown Dutch B.S.(butterhead), Curled Selesia W.S.(looseleaf, now extinct),
1848 – Speckled Dutch Butter W.S.* (hybrid between butter head and crisphead),
1860 – Paris White Cos (Romaine type, Introduced from Europe),
1862 – Boston Market W.S. (butterhead),
1865 – Early Curled Simpson W.S.* (looseleaf) 
1870 – Passion B.S.* (butterhead),
1871 – Hanson W.S.* (one of the most popular crisp head varieties grown in the U.S. prior to 1900),
1873 – Grand Rapids B.S.* (looseleaf),
1873 – Prize Head W.S.* (a perennial favorite looseleaf variety in America),
1887 – Big Boston W.S.* (probably the most generally grown butter head until the development of crisp head),
1896 – New York W.S.* (crisp head – The parent of many modern “Iceberg” types)

*B.S. means black seed and W.S. means white seed

Why Is Your Lettuce from the West? (Anderson)

The lettuce varieties you eat today are specifically selected for California Coastal or Arizona desert growing conditions and to meet consumer demand:

  • 1896: Crisphead lettuce was introduced to the Los Angeles are and thrived
  • About this time, ice-box rail cars were introduced so that perishable produce, such as lettuce could be shipped to far points of the map
  • The fledgling lettuce industry aggressively marketed with the introduction of “iceberg” lettuce to differentiate western grown lettuce from eastern butter and looseleaf varieties. 
  • 1920s: lettuce moved northward from LA to Santa Barbara and Monterey counties. 
  • USDA initiated a lettuce breeding program and produced the Imperial variety. 
  • 1930s: Downy mildew became rampant and the USDA created “Imperial F and subsequent varieties that were resistant to both D. mildew and Brown blight. 
  • 1940s: The Great Lake variety was bred. It had crenelated leaves and was adaptable, had solid weight and shipped well. It was popular, with consumers through the 1960s, in spite of its taste. 
  • 1950s: Several varieties were released: Empire, Climax, Merit, Vanguard and Golden State. Each had unique cosmetic or growing characteristics. 
  • 1975: the Salinas Variety was developed that was ideally suited to the Salinas Valley. 
  • I love the names of other varieties that were bred in the 1970s: Beacon, Del Oro, Bubba, Cibola, Coolguard, Coyote, Crusader, Desert Queen, Desert Spring, Desert Storm, Diamondback, Heatmaster, Honcho, Jackal, Sahara, Sun Devil, Valley Queen, Ed Dorado, Laguna Fresca, Sharpshooter, Trojan, Mohawk, Navaho, and Grizzly. And people think that plant breeders aren’t creative! 

History of Salinas Valley Is Inextricably Tied to Lettuce

  • 1923 was the inaugural year of the Lettuce Industry in the Salinas Valley

Production Information

Depending on the variety and time of year, lettuce generally grows 65–130 days from planting to harvesting.

Because flowering (aka “bolting”) makes lettuce bitter, it is rarely allowed to grow to maturity.


Today

In the winter, lettuce production moves from the Salinas Valley of the Central Coast of California to the Yuma, Arizona and Imperial Valley, California growing areas. These are located in the Sonoran Desert just north of the Mexican border. A host of crops are grown in Yuma: wheat, oranges, lemons, dates, alfalfa. But the crown jewel of Yuma is lettuce and likely you have eaten lettuce from this area. In Yuma, most agriculture is irrigated with open-canal water from the Colorado Rvier. About 45,000 farm workers to harvest, trim, pack and transport lettuce every day during the season. At the height of the winter growing season, “1,000 trucks, each carrying about 1,000 boxes of lettuce” are shipped every night. (Satran) This article has great photos of lettuce production in the desert. 

 


Books and References 

Anderson, Burton. The Salinas Valley, A History of America’s Salad Bowl. Monterey Historical Society. 2000.

Florence Tyler. Varieties of Lettuce. Huffington Post. Video.https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/lettuce-varieties_n_1626023.html#slide=1143726

Henriette’s Herbal Homepage, Welcome to the Back Side. Lactuca alpina, Lactuca scariola. Information based on Hedrick, ed., 1919 Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World.  https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/sturtevant/lactuca.html

Satran, Joe. This Is Where America gets Almost All Its Winter Lettuce. HuffPost. March 4, 2015. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/04/yuma-lettuce_n_6796398.html

Wikipedia: Lettuce