Posted on Wed, September 02, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
1 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Farms and Farming,
Slow Food USA Ark of Taste (we list is as Speckled lettuce).]
by RAFT Grow-out Coordinator Anne Obelnicki
Isnt it funny the unexpected complications that sometimes arise when you start something new?
This is Chefs Collaboratives pilot year with the RAFT (Renewing Americas Food Traditions) Grow-Out project. Sixteen intriguing heirloom varieties of vegetables, all with historical ties to New England, were chosen and grown-out by farmers in our three pilot areas for local chefs to buy and celebrate on their menus. The first variety to come in, which weve had for a few months now, was Forellenschuss lettuce.
Forellenschuss is German for trout, self-enclosing, which refers to its speckled nature (like a trout) in this case green with rusty red speckles, and the type of head shape it has, which is romaine type. The lettuce was grown in both Holland and Austria in the 1600s, then it traveled through Germany (hence its nifty name), then Canada, to arrive in the US in the late 1700s. It has been grown in New England and around the U.S. ever since. It is routinely referred to as one of the tastiest and most popular backyard heirloom lettuces.
So whats this complication I alluded to, you might ask? Well, its those lovely speckles. In the age of generic romaine and iceberg, there are apparently a lot of folks who just cant wrap their minds around the idea that their lettuce is supposed to be speckled. They take one look at that lovely trout-like pattern and immediately call up associations with something they left in the back of the fridge for too long. Thats right; they think its rotten, or diseased.
Luckily, we have a lot of savvy farmers and chefs out there providing some much needed PR for this lettuce. Matt Tracy and Catherine Mardosa at Red Planet Vegetables put Forellenschuss in their salad mix for CSA members. Because of the nature of the CSA model (its prebought) and probably also the nature of CSA members (a little more veggie adventurous), they are able push the boundaries a bit more than they can at the farmers market.
Barbara OReilly at Bally Machree Farm told me theyve been growing Forellenschuss lettuce for years, and yes some people think it is diseased but theyve built up such trust with their customers that they are willing to try something they might have otherwise been hesitant about.
Perhaps my favorite Forellenschuss-championing story is about chef Richard Garcia at Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro in Foxboro, MA. Rich has been using the lettuce in his Romaine Hearts Salad, but he doesnt stop with just using it. According to a conversation I had with one of his cooks, Rich asks his wait staff to learn and share details of the heirlooms history with customers. The cook kind of looked at me out of the corner of his eye as he said really, he grills them on it. I nodded appreciatively, then he added, If they dont know enough, he gets really upset he might even send them home. Really? I think there might have been a little exaggeration going on there, but were still psyched to have Rich as a Forellenschuss championing pioneer.
So, might I suggest you take a trip to your local farmers market or have dinner at one of the participating RAFT Grow-Out restaurants (in Portsmouth, NH, Providence, RI and Boston, MA)? If you see some Forellenschuss lettuce, pick up a head; if its on the menu, order it! Its delicious; you wont be disappointed. Because seriously, this lettuce is not diseased.