Wednesday, March 12, 2014


The first of those plants, seeds or seedlings, that I have planted outdoors this spring are the carrots.  I should have planted radishes already, but it has been too muddy to disturb my soil.  As far as the calendar goes, I pretty much have a green light now, so I'll be planting in a frenzy whenever spring rains allow.  Because I'm working in those weather windows of time, there will be days when I do nothing but fret and other days when I work myself to the bones.

The picture above shows why I do it.  SO CUTE, and I know I am going to enjoy those little rows for many months, all the way into autumn. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Keeping Lettuce Longer

One of the most delicate and beautiful greens is lettuce.  Around here, it is also a terrible waste when purchased from the store because it seems to go brown and mushy, especially the stuff in bags, within a couple days.  Also, conventionally grown lettuce is covered in pesticides.  That is a concern for everyone, but especially people with young children whose little brains are rapidly developing and for us old folks, whose little brains are rapidly degenerating! Not to mention what pesticides are doing to irreplaceable ecosystems.

When I got online looking for tips for preserving lettuce, I first ran into this idea of using a vacuum seal.  Sounds good, but then I would have to purchase the apparatus.  No thanks!  Heavens, I'm trying to simplify around here, not buy another gadget!

I looked some more for tips that didn't require the gadget and found people adding paper towels in with the lettuce to absorb moisture.  No, no,  no, I'm trying to reduce the number of paper towels I waste, not find another use for them!

After a bit more browsing, I realized I might know as much about preserving lettuce as I'm going to learn from the internet.  I'm still open to tips from old dogs out there, but here's what I know about saving lettuce by growing it myself every spring, fall and winter for about 25 years.

1. My homegrown lettuce stays fresh in the fridge longer. That may have something to do with how long the store lettuce is transported and stored before seeing the grocery store lights and resting under their misters.  If a person is not growing their own, organic and local is preferable to conventionally-grown lettuce.

2.  Spin lettuce COMPLETELY dry before storing.  While I won't ever buy a vacuum gadget, I definitely recommend a lettuce spinner as a basic, kitchen tool.  (*See below for more on spinners.)  Although a spinner is preferable, lettuce can still be dried either by patting it dry between clean towels or placing it in netted bags and swinging it outdoors.  That last is only useful in good weather and if you're fit and active!

3. Be gentle in handling.  Brown edges are harmless, but aesthetically unpleasant, and we want our food to be beautiful!  The choice of tearing or chopping depends on how much lettuce there is to process and the size of the storage container.  I prefer to leave the leaves as large as possible (I have a huge container I use specifically for lettuce.) and tear it later at the time I assemble the salad.

4.  Toss with scant amount of fresh lemon juice.  I don't add so much lemon that it pools in the plastic container, just enough to make the lettuce shine.  Freshly squeezed lemon works best and tastes brighter.  I wouldn't even bother using bottled lemon juice.

5.  Don't store too cold, which means either turn the fridge temp warmer (probably not good for other foods) or store the lettuce on a high shelf.  Putting lettuce in the "crisper" is a good way to wilt it and turn it mushy in the moisture that tends to condense down there.

6. Store in a plastic tupperware-like container instead of bags.  Bags with holes are the typical container from a store.  They're better than a sealed bag, but bags of any kind get banged around and crushed.  Even the act of placing the lettuce into the bag compresses the gently spun and lemon-tossed leaves. I handle the lettuce only as much as necessary.  I toss with lemon in the plastic container, which saves a transfer step.  If the lettuce is thoroughly dried, coated in lemon, and stored at average refrigerator temps, the lack of ventilation won't be a factor, especially if the container is often being pulled out and opened to make fresh salads.

These same tips can be applied to store-bought lettuce, although the storage time is necessarily less.  In my house, I buy from the store when I know I can use it all within a couple of days and when I have exhausted my home sources of greens.  It is very seldom that some of the store-bought lettuce isn't wasted, which is odd because it is very seldom that there is ever enough of my homegrown greens!

Now, I could talk growing lettuce ad nauseum, but I would have to write a book for all that.

*More on salad spinners:.  It's one thing to deny yourself gadgets, another to fail in having a well-equipped kitchen.  There's work to be done in there!   Plastic spinners work fine, and they are easy to clean.  I usually only need to rinse mine.  It does take up room, but earns that space by virtue of functionality and frequency of use.  Should a person be in the market for buying a salad spinner and not wish to purchase plastic, there are other choices in metal.   In this Youtube video, Julia Child demonstrates some amazing, vintage spinners she collected.