DENISE Latham is what you might call a lettuce expert.
The Teven farmer has dedicated close to 25 years of her farming life to this leafy green salad staple, and she’s known for producing some of the sweetest and best lettuce in the area.
Organic fertiliser, water, and temperature all play a part in the quality of final product, but the fact that they’re grown in the ground (rather than hydroponically) is what Denise says sets her lettuce apart.
“Lettuces that are grown in the ground are going to have a much better taste, because that’s how nature intended them to grow,” she said.
“In a hydroponic situation they grow much more quickly, but they’re force fed with an artificial fertiliser and they’re being pushed along, so they become sappy – they don’t have the same flavour.”
“When they’re in the ground and they’ve got water laid on and food laid on, they just have a much nicer taste and texture.”
Denise, who started out supplying local restaurants before moving to the farmers markets, says her lettuces also last a lot longer.
“That’s what got me the business – because the other lettuce just didn’t stand up for the restaurants.
“I’d take a tub of salad mix that would last week no trouble, and the other stuff – they’d be throwing it out after two days.”
She does stress, however, that storage is critical. If you want your lettuce to last, you have to keep it in a sealed container: “Any refrigeration is going to suck the moisture out. A sealed container makes all the difference.
“You’ll get a week easy – two weeks you and might have to get rid of a couple of outside leaves.”
The next few months will be prime time for lettuce production on Denise’s farm. The weather is warming up, resulting in bigger, faster-growing lettuces with excellent flavour.
“The faster you can grow a lettuce the nicer it’s going to be,” she said,
Find Denise Latham at the New Brighton and Mullumbimby farmers’ markets.
Top tip for home gardeners
Denise says giving lettuce a little extra TLC during warm weather will make all the difference when it comes to flavour. “The trick to keeping them sweet is to keep them misted during the day if they need it, so that they don’t wilt. Once a lettuce wilts it’s going to go bitter. It’s a stress and the plant will never be as nice.”
News from the farmers’ market
Light and fragrant, fennel is crisp and refreshing when raw, and beautifully sweet when slow cooked. It’s a cool weather crop and only appears at local farmers’ markets for a short period, so make the most of it while you can. The bulb is the most widely used part of the plant, but the fronds can be sprinkled on to salads as well, both giving a mild aniseed flavour. Finely sliced strips of fennel combined with orange segments and a dressing of olive oil, salt and pepper make a simple but delicious salad. Roasted, fennel becomes soft and sweet and is great with roast chicken, pork and fish. Find fresh fennel at Summit Organics and Everest Farm (New Brighton/Mullumbimby farmers’ markets).
With a flavour that’s milder and sweeter than onion, leeks are another wonderful winter vegetable. Gently sauteed in butter, they are a delicious accompaniment to sausages and mash. Leeks are also perfect in soups, casseroles, risotto, and chicken and leek pie. Look for locally-grown green leeks at Everest Farms (New Brighton/Mullum), Summit Organics (New Brighton/Mullum) and Organic Forrest (Mullum).
Local lettuce is approaching peak season. As it begins to warm up, we can look forward to large, sweet lettuces with a lovely texture, says Teven grower Denise Latham. Mini cos, cos and fancy lettuce are Denise’s specialities. Organic Forrest (Mullum) and Salad Hut (New Brighton/Mullum) also grow these, as well as other varieties. To avoid the dreaded wilted lettuce in the crisper, store unwashed lettuce in a sealed container in the fridge. You’ll get almost two weeks storage time this way, says Denise.