A Leaf out of History

A freckled lettuce with a funny name is once again making a splash.

By Dee Nash

Photography by Matthew Benson


Heirloom tomatoes and squash seem to get all the press; leafy greens, not so much. But an Austrian heirloom lettuce that dates to 1793 deserves attention. Known today as 'Flashy Troutback', it was, in its central European heyday, called 'Forellenschuss' ("trout speckles") and widely favored for its claret-splashed, bright green leaves. Lettuce has been on our tables a long time. Its ancestors can allegedly be traced back to the kitchen gardens of ancient Mesopotamia.

The name 'Flashy Troutback' is sometimes used interchangeably with 'Freckles' in catalogs, but according to Johnny's Selected Seeds, 'Freckles' is a different variety and lacks the uniformity of 'Flashy Troutback'. Whatever its origin and character, this is a desirable lettuce to plant, for it is just as pretty in the garden as in the salad bowl.

Like most lettuce, 'Flashy Troutback' is surprisingly easy to grow, needing full sun and loose, loamy soil enriched with organic compost. Combine this reliability with its cheerful appearance—not to mention its goofy name—and 'Flashy Troutback' makes a good choice for a child's first garden. As a dwarf variety, it grows quickly, maturing in 55 days with 8-to-12-inch heads. It can also be harvested at 4 to 6 inches as baby greens.

Lettuce seeds germinate at soil temperatures as low as 35°F. From USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7 northward, sow seeds outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked in spring—up to a month before the last expected frost. In Zone 8 and warmer, sow seeds in late winter. Sprinkle seeds thinly in rows no deeper than a quarter inch, as they need light to germinate. Seeds can also be sown in a coldframe for early-spring salads.