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Farmers' Market Desserts
By Jennie Schacht



Farmers market
customers prefer
butterhead lettuce,
one farmer says


Iceberg Lettuce Reconsidered

Batavian Varieties Are Touted as
Crunchy, Durable Without Loss of Taste

The growing popularity of salad mix is at least in part a revolt against the tyranny of iceberg lettuce, the variety that rose to prominence because of its durability, virtually eliminating all other lettuces from the marketplace by the 1960s in the process. But the disdained variety and its crunchy Batavian forebears deserve another look, several cutting-edge seed companies are now suggesting.

Introduced by the W. Atlee Burpee Co. in 1894, iceberg lettuce can withstand long-distance shipping but it is tasteless, preached the salad mix pioneers, who planted a myriad of old-fashioned leafy varieties to toss into their mixes.

But now, in response to popular demand for lettuce that’s crunchy and yes, durable, several suppliers of seeds to those who grow for farmers markets have recently expanded their offerings of Batavian head lettuces, the variety from whence iceberg came.

"It’s time to reconsider" iceberg, declared the 1996 Shepherd’s Garden Seed catalogue, which included several varieties of Batavian head lettuces.

"Batavians were around before they bred out the flavor," Joyce McClellan, founder of Ornamental Edibles, explained in a salad mix trade magazine last fall. "These lettuces are very flavorful and some are beautifully colored. They have a thick, crunchy leaf that offers great shelf life."

Are the growers who started the salad mix boom—and their customers in farmers markets—buying that?

Apparently not yet. John Bowdish, a farmer who sells salad mix at Santa Barbara County farmers markets, likes Batavian varieties and grows several of them, including Nevada, which is light green and forms a tight head. The trouble is, "People steer away from it because it looks like a supermarket lettuce," Bowdish says.

Some of the miniature romaines, such as Little Gem and Winter Density, have all the compactness and crunch of iceberg without the stigmatizing bowling-ball shape, he says.

If you tested the preference of consumers at farmers markets by offering a table full of lettuces of all types, says Bowdish, "butterhead lettuces would do best."

Copyright 1997 Seasonal Chef