MY FAVOURITE LETTUCE TO GROW FOR FLAVOUR

The first six in my top ten are all varieties of Lactuca sativa (lettuce).  Growing traditional varieties of  lettuce requires no previous experience, the minimum of space and promises delicious leaves and hearts to eat all year round.  It is also very easy to save lettuce seed. (link to how to save seed).  Different varieties of lettuce can be sown from early spring until late autumn.  One of the great secrets about lettuce is that those sown in the autumn and harvested throughout winter and early spring have the best flavour.

The final four are not lettuce in the botanical meaning but in fact varieties of a different species Cichorium intybus (chicory).  There are lots of different varieties including root chicory, endive, escarole and radicchio to name a few.  My favourites are all sown in summer and autumn to crop through the autumn, winter and into the spring.  They provide colour and above all wonderful flavours to winter salads.

Overwintering lettuce and chicories can be grown outside but will benefit from cloche protection.  Later sown crops I grow in a polytunnel or cold frame to protect the plants from the ravages of a wet and windy winter.

1. BLOODY WARRIOR

The blood-red spots on the super-sweet green leaves give this wonderful lettuce its name – Bloody Warrior.  Once grown commercially, it is now held safely in the Heritage Seed Library https://hsl.gardenorganic.org.uk/seedlist/lettuce/bloody-warrior  I sow  seed in late September and can harvest leaves through until late April.

2. BROWN BATH COS

Brown Bath Cos is a very hardy large cos type from the HSL https://hsl.gardenorganic.org.uk/seedlist/lettuce/brown-bath-cos is another fine lettuce to grow through the winter months although it is a truly delicious all-year-round variety that can be sown in the spring for a summer crop as well as in the autumn for a winter and spring crop  This is one of the oldest surviving commercial varieties of English lettuce, first recorded in Bath in 1793.  Crisp and crunchy leaves that would be impossible to find on a supermarket shelf!

3. LITTLE GEM

Little Gem is one of the most widely available traditional lettuces found on supermarket shelves.  It has been grown commercially for decades and with good reason.  Its size makes it perfect for sandwiches, summer salads that demand crispy, sweet lettuce leaves and a whole lettuce is usually enough for a meal for two.  This is my go-to maincrop lettuce and with successional sowings from February to August I can be sure of enjoying this fantastic variety through the summer and into late autumn.

4. ROUGE D'HIVER

Rouge D’Hiver is a wonderful French loose cos type,  that has a taste that is quite unimpeachable; crunchy, sweet and colourful too.  Another variety that I borrowed from the HSL but which is now widely available again from seed companies it is best sown in the autumn for harvesting in early spring.  The cold weather helps to deepen the colour and flavour of this cut-and-come again variety.

5. LATTUGHINO

I was given seed of Lattughino, a wonderful, hardy Italian cut-and-come again lettuce by a gardener at my old school where it was being grown in a walled garden biodynamically.  Sown in the autumn as a cut-and-come again crop, in early March I thin the plants to about 20cms apart and allow them to heart up for gorgeous crispy lettuce through the spring.

6. MESCHER

Mescher is one of the oldest varieties of lettuce still available from some seed suppliers.  It is also safely held by the HSL https://hsl.gardenorganic.org.uk/seedlist/lettuce/mescher  It is another variety that can be grown all year round because it is very hardy.  However, it is quick-maturing, taking about ten weeks from sowing to harvest.  The red tinged leaves can be picked regularly.  Left to heart up the centres are naturally blanched by the tight outer leaves, revealing a deliciously sweet heart that will grace any salad in spring, summer or autumn.

7. RADICCHIO VARIEGATA DI LUISA

Radicchio Variagata di Luisa is the most beautiful looking radicchio I have ever grown.  A favourite in Italy it has recently made its way to the UK. Wonderful hearts of speckled red and white leaves surround a crisp and delicious heart.  This variety is number one of all the types of chicory I grow and tastes as fabulous as it looks.

8. RADICCHIO PALLA ROSSA PRECOCE

Radicchio are my go-to winter salad.  With cold weather the leaves turn a deep red.  The solid hearts of Palla Rossa Precoce, a fine Italian cultivar are second to none in my opinion.  With successional sowing from late August until the end of September I can be sure of a regular harvest from Christmas through to March.

9. ENDIVE PANCALIERI A COSTA BLANCA

There are many different varieties of frizzy endive, but Pancalieri a Costa Blanca is a great favourite.  Without blanching the heads the leaves can be very bitter.  Covering maturing plants with a cap to exclude the light ensures the leaves are tender and succulent

10. SCAROLE VERDE A CUORE PIENO

Another very important addition to my winter diet is this type of endive known as escarole.  From Italian, the name means Green with a full Heart  Well worth growing if you have the space as they need at least 30cms between plants.

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