I don’t grow lettuce any more. We’ve found other greens that are hardy in winter, less attractive to slugs, and even more delicious (although I do have a thing for butter lettuce).
Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, is one of our favorites. Not only does it taste wonderful, it has a certain wood elf magic to it – We’ve enticed kids who hate greens into eating bowls full of it, just because the leaves still look enchanted when they’re tossed with a simple dressing and served for dinner.
We’re lucky to have a bed of it that self sows to replace itself every year in late winter, giving us fresh green salads from January or February through late spring. It’s a native woodland plant along the coast and in the mountains from southern Alaska down to Central America, but we found our original seed packet in the European Greens section of Territorial Seeds. That one seed packet became the perennial patch in one of our raised beds. Miner’s lettuce is high in Vitamin C (it got its common name when it kept early European miners and settlers in its North American range from getting scurvy), and as a member of the purslane family, it may also have omega-3 fatty acids to share.
We eat it in all stages, from small spear-shaped leaves through the larger heart-shaped phase with tiny white flowers. The stems are lovely when the leaves are small, but as they grow larger, we start to trim the thicker stems off. My kids love this best with a simple vinaigrette or straight from the garden, garnished with nothing at all. I’ve read that it can be boiled like spinach, but we’ve never tried that – If you have, please let me how it is.
I harvest ours with my pair of kitchen shears, cutting the top layer of leaves off. This creates bald patch of stems that will become a field of new leaves within days, when the babies from below grow up to take their place in the winter sun.
If you’re looking for a winter green that rewards benign neglect with rich harvests, give miner’s lettuce a try; if you don’t have an area to grow your own, go foraging. Try it, you’ll like it, wherever you pick it.