This picture was taken on 7/22, after what will no doubt come to be called The Deluge of 2010. If you don’t know what our tiny creek looks like in late July, you see a fair amount of water. If you do know, you see Niagara Falls.
When we left for an evening opening at Caldbeck Gallery, in Rockland, I put an empty bucket in the driveway, carefully avoiding measurement complicators like overhanging trees and dripping eves. When we got home (after crossing three low spots that should by all rights have stopped the car, since the water was up to the doors), it was overflowing. That is not a doctored photo; we got over 8 inches of rain in less than 4 hours.
Also the lightening was nonstop throughout. Also a giant elm branch fell on the sailboat parked in my neighbor’s yard. Also many roads were washed out; basements flooded…
People are pretty much alright, however, so I’m free to say the unusual storm is a perfect symbol for the usual Summer Crescendo: way too much of everything all at once.
And a whole bunch of other stuff is happening but right now let’s talk about the lettuce.
Thing 1. Heat makes lettuce bolt – rise up and go to seed. All lettuce gets bitter when it bolts. But some varieties are bolt-resistant, much slower to switch from making leaves to making the next generation, and others (far fewer, alas), remain tasty even after bolting, their bitterness so modest it’s more or less inconsequential.
Thing 2. Keep replanting, ideally at 3 week intervals but realistically at least 3 or 4 times a season. Even when it doesn’t bolt, home grown lettuce stops tasting home grown as soon as it matures.
Thing 3. Lettuce doesn’t need to lie in its own bed. Very short rows of seedlings can be divided into individuals and transplanted into open spots anywhere.
Cutting the bolted lettuce brings us to Thing 4: Lettuce in this condition is still delicious; you just have to cook it – and not for long. Cut the central stem at @ 1 inch intervals, leaving leaves attached. Wash by swishing in a big bowl of water (see Washing Spinach for details). Allow to dry off a bit then stir-fry in very hot butter just until wilted. Season with salt and a tiny pinch of sugar. Bolted lettuce is also tasty braised in chicken broth as though it were escarole.
Shopping for Lettuce Seed at brick and mortar stores isn’t so easy at this time of year; most garden centers have pulled down the seed racks to make room for fall bulb displays. I get Panisse and Anuenue from my friends at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, the Italienischer and Craciovensis from Fedco. Both are also excellent sources for the next round – cold-resistant lettuces like Winter Density and Mervielle de Quatre Saisons, and all the delicious specialty greens that carry us through the fall: radicchio, mache, broccoli raab, Portuguese cabbage, kale…
Chanterelle note: Whatever else you do, don’t forget to make a couple of quarts of Dianna’s Chanterelle Vodka.
Creek and rain gauge photos by Bill Bakaitis