Why is my salad so awful?

It is officially mid-summer around here on Long Island NY.  The days are very hot, sticky and humid. Awesome weather if you are a plant I guess.  It is the kind of weather that makes you crave a cool refreshing salad with produce picked right off the garden. IMG_4272

Since our tomatoes have so far refused to turn any shade of red, we have been hitting our lettuces and the like pretty heavily. So much that some have now grown very tall and look like some sort of palm tree.IMG_4390

A few evenings ago I went out to collect an assortment of greens for a fresh dinner salad. I picked about a pound of leaves altogether. I had red ones, green ones, mottled ones, smooth ones and ruffled ones too, a good looking mixed bunch. IMG_4066

I washed it, spin dried it, chopped it, and then mixed it with cucumber I picked early that day, some red onion and store bought tomato.  For dressing I used a quick balsamic vinaigrette, nothing fancy but a favorite at our house.

I don’t think I exaggerate when I say our salad tasted as if I had made it with freshly picked oak leaves. Crunchy and fresh but awfully bitter.  After washing the taste with plenty of water, my mind rushed to the garden, what were we going to do with all that lettuce still out there? There was still plenty of lettuce, radicchio and Swiss chard to feed our family for a few days.  The thought of having to trash it all was not a happy one, I hate to waste food.IMG_4251

An online search on bitter lettuce will lead you to bolting lettuce, and will give you suggestions on how to prevent or minimize the bitterness in leafy greens. Below are some I have tried and somewhat seem to work for us.

Heat not only makes lettuce go to seed (bolting), but somewhat stresses the lettuce and that makes it taste bitter, so avoid picking leaves during or at the end of the day. I find it best to harvest the lettuce very early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to warm up too much. IMG_4388

Collect all the leaves in a container with cold water. I actually use water with ice cubes, as at this time of year the water coming out of the faucet never gets cold enough.IMG_4289 IMG_4362

Wash, select and hydrate the lettuce by placing the leaves right side up in a bowl with cold water for at least 6 hours.  We make mixed heads of lettuce by placing the smaller leaves in the center and surround them with larger leaves.IMG_4368 IMG_4305

Once the leaves are well hydrated, drain them and store them in the fridge inside zip lock bags.IMG_4392 IMG_4394

Of course, taking care of late season lettuce as detailed above does not make it as sweet as it was in the spring when it was young and tender, but certainly makes it a lot less bitter and definitely edible. Also, once you mix it with other vegetables and a nice salad dressing, any hint of leftover bitterness cannot be tasted. Nonetheless, avoid using the older tougher leaves, or stems of those greens that have turned fuzzy, those are definitely best in your compost.

Hope this works for you too, even if it gets you a couple more decent salads it is well worth it. In a few weeks you can start all over again with a new planting for fall and early winter harvest.

For more information on keeping lettuce check one of my older posts

15 thoughts on “Why is my salad so awful?

  1. Excellent tips! I had no idea that this happened. I tried unsuccessfully to grow various lettuces from seed. But I didn’t sweat it too much, because we subscribe to a CSA and we end up with way more salad greens than we can eat in the spring and early summer months.

    I’m growing some red veined sorrel that I bought from the framers market, so I’ll keep these tips in mind.


    1. Hi Naima, thank you for visiting.
      Fresh garden greens are one of our favorite produce, but unfortunately once they do bolt it is unfortunately over.
      I will start them again in about a month from seed directly on the ground in the shade for a fall crop. Then the problem is different, trying to save them from freezing.
      I guess the fun part of this all is learning how to lengthen the growing season.


  2. Really good post, I’m so going to have to reblog this!
    My lettuce started bolting in June due to the extra warm days we got (followed by extra cold ones – the poor Okra can’t catch a break) and I did exactly what you did – research, gathered all viables, and then returned the stems to the soil. So far, I haven’t found any season-lengthening tricks that are justifiable. Which is a pity – how sad is it that a spring harvest (lettuce, snow peas, radishes) and a summer harvest (tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers) go so well together but are never really available (naturally) at the same time?!


    1. You really spoil me, thank you for visiting, and please re blog any time.
      I hope my lettuce makes it to at least the start of my tomato season. The poor plants are heavy with fruit, but all of it green. Are your tomatoes ripening in Vienna?


      1. I just noticed just yesterday that two of them are a bit orange; however, since my tomatoes are beefsteak variety, I never really anticipated early tomatoes. Next year, I think I’ll add a early cherry variety to the mix.


        1. Even my cherries are super green. I hope at least to get some to ripen before the cucumber season goes away. Do you have a good recipe involving tomatoes and pumpkin????


          1. Wow, you do have an eclectic taste – cherries & cucumbers; interesting. As for the recipe, I don’t have one personally, but have two suggestions. First, I’d direct you to Food52 (website) as they tend to have great worldwide recipes. Second, if I were to combine them; I’d cut the pumpkin in half, slather olive oil, salt, & black pepper inside (after removing the seeds) & roast/bake (cut side up) it til almost soft. Throw the tomatoes in the halves for the last few minutes & serve. My favorite veggies are roasted as they get so nutty & sweet in flavor. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.


              1. LOL, well, that changes everything, lol. How is it that your tomatoes aren’t ripe yet? My neighbor has harvested hers twice already – they’re usually pretty early harvests. Has it been unseasonably cool by you?


                1. Not really we had somewhat of a cool spring but summer has hit us hard. Apparently when it gets too hot the ripening process slows down too.
                  Watched water does not boil…..


                  1. I never knew that! I’ve heard that sweet peppers will drop their buds & flowers if it’s too hot/dry. Do you have an irrigation system installed, are they mulched? I’ve read both help to keep the soil cool and evenly moist. I’ve tried both this year and they seem to be working very well.


                    1. Yes. I have a drip irrigation system and my soil is nice and moist as I have plenty of moss and vermiculite in it

                      Some times I miss not having to water.


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