LA VIE RUSTIC FRENCH LETTUCE SEED COLLECTION
In French markets and home gardens, you’ll see an ever-changing array of lettuces in all colors, leaf types, shapes, and sizes. Red, pale green, dark green, variegated, tight heads, loose heads, tall and short – the choice is vast and varied. The ones we have selected here represent a combination of shapes, colors and flavors that will ensure you a wide range of lettuces for your salads. All of them are heirlooms with a long history of being cultivated in French potager and market gardens. The seed varieties marked with a “V” indicates they were described by the famous French seedsmen and horticulturalists, MM. Vilmorin-Andrieux, over 125 years ago in their book, The Vegetable Garden, first published in English in 1885.
Types of Lettuce
Batavian or Crisphead
Batavian lettuces are somewhat old-fashioned. They form a semi-tight head, with looser, spreading outer leaves. They are the precursor to the crisphead or iceberg types so commonly seen today with exceedingly tight heads and lots of wrapper leaves, which are generally discarded before being sent to market.
Butterhead lettuce forms small to medium heads comprised of loosely folding leaves with a fine texture. The leaves are very smooth and delicate, making these a favorite in France for the classic, thick mustard vinaigrette that coats the leaves.
Romaine or Cos
Romaine lettuce forms an upright head, with elongated leaves that are slightly spoon-shaped. The leaves may be slightly ruffled at the end and the mid-rib may or may not be pronounced. Romaines are typically quite sturdy and crunchy.
Loose-leaf lettuces grow in a loose, open shape with no discernible head forming. None of this type is included in our French Lettuce Seed Collection.
Contents of the Collection
A large overpacket, letterpress printed on a 1950 Heidelberg press by a master printer, contains 6 individual packets with 1 gram each of the lettuce varieties below, each enough for planting a 50 foot row or multiple seedings of shorter rows, plus complete planting and blanching instructions.
Reine des Glaces, also known as Frisée de Beauregard – V -This Batavian type, like some of the other lettuces in this collection, has been cultivated for more than 125 years, a testimonial to how good it is. It might be my favorite lettuce. It has deeply cut, almost lacy leaves with spiky edges, and its tightly curled head has an iceberg look. It’s easy to imagine that once upon a time iceberg lettuce did look and taste like Reine des Glaces, full of favor with a crunchy texture. Although best grown in the cool days of spring and fall, it can tolerate some heat.
.Rouge Grenobloise- This Batavian type has a large head, heavily brushed with varying shades of magenta, and pale-green inner leaves that are somewhat crisp. The leaves are curly and ruffled. It does equally well in warm and cold weather, making it a good choice for many growing areas.
Merveille de Quatre Saisons – V – This is a classic larger butterhead type, with soft delicate leaves that are blushed dark magenta along the tops, pale green at the base. It has been in production for more than 125 years and is still a favorite in farmers’ markets and restaurants, not yet eclipsed by new breeding. It’s called ‘4 Seasons’ because in all but the hottest and coldest climates, it can be grown year-round, though it is best, I think, in spring and fall.
Reine de Mai – This butterhead lettuce forms a lovely little pale creamy-green head, sometimes tinged with just a bit of rose. The leaves, like other butterheads, are fine and delicate, and their unusual color sets them apart. It is not very heat tolerant.
Rougette de Montpellier, also known as Rougette de Midi- This butterhead type forms a small, almost round head with typically dark maroon leaves, green at the base. The leaves are tender and delicate. It is more tolerant to heat than some other butterheads.
Romaine Rouge d’Hiver- V – This romaine, after being in production for more than 125 years, remains a standard for both home and market growers. The leaves are smoother and more delicate than those of most romaines and vary in shade from maroon to bronzish red, with pale green bases. This lettuce is excellent to harvest as baby lettuce when the leaves are 4 or 5 inches long, and of course, it can also be harvested at full size.
When to plant: Climate is the major influence on lettuce. When the days grow hot, the lettuce becomes bitter. Plant in spring and fall in warm climates, spring, summer, and fall in cooler climates.
Germination: 5 to 7 days
Days to maturity: Approximately 28 days for baby leaf, 50-58 days for full heads.
In the Kitchen: Try Reine des Glaces for your next wedge salad with blue cheese dressing, adding some crumbled bacon. Combine Reine de Mai with fresh tarragon, basil, and chives and dress with Champagne vinaigrette. Mix all the baby lettuce leaves together and some fresh herbs to make your own mesclun mix. Most of all, enjoy a fresh garden salad every day.