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


Gardeners in colder areas of the country may prefer to start seeds indoors in flats. Scatter the seed evenly on moistened organic seed-starting mix and cover with a thin sifting of compost. When seedlings develop their first true leaves, transfer them to small pots for planting out later. After all danger of frost, set transplants 2 inches apart in the garden. Thin the plants to 6 inches apart and use the thinnings in salads.

Lettuce requires regular, even moisture. Being a nitrogen and phosphorus lover, it performs best when given doses of a natural soluble organic fertilizer, like fish emulsion, at least once a month. 'Flashy Troutback' is heat-tolerant, but it likes shade during hot spring days, so use shade cloth, or plant in the shelter of a deciduous shrub that leafs out in late spring and so protects the lettuce from afternoon sun.

Young plants are susceptible to slugs, cutworms, rabbits, and other garden pests. Protect them from damage with floating row covers and fencing. Hand-pick and dispose of slugs, snails, and cutworms, and remove the mulch they hide in from around the plants. If aphids are a problem, attract ladybugs by spraying uncovered plants with diluted sugar water, or use an insecticidal soap to kill the aphids without harming beneficial insects.

Although 'Flashy Troutback' is slow to bolt, try to harvest mature heads before summer heat hits. The heads stay fresh for up to 10 days in the refrigerator vegetable bin. Don't store lettuce near apples, pears, or bananas, as they emit ethylene gas, which turns the lettuce brown.

Flashy Dippers
In honor of its ancestry, use the spoon-shaped leaves from mature heads of 'Flashy Troutback' as dipping tools for foods like hummus (made with chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, salt, and pepper) or baba ghannouj (roasted eggplant, lemon juice, tahini, and salt). Put the dips on a platter surrounded by baby carrots, radishes, and individual leaves of 'Flashy Troutback'.

With its mild flavor, 'Flashy Troutback' doesn't require a heavy dressing. Keep the salad simple, using only the freshest ingredients from the garden, gathered young and sweet. Green onions, radishes, and even roasted, peeled beets, which echo the wine-colored splotches of 'Flashy Troutback', are all good choices. Toss these ingredients with homemade mustard vinaigrette made by whisking together three parts organic virgin olive oil; one part vinegar, either rice, red wine, or cider; and a teaspoon of a coarse-grain or Dijon mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the oil is especially good and fresh, just use it with a sprinkle of salt and grind of black pepper. Simple, elegant, and delicious.