Thursday, August 3, 2017

La Maison Rustique - The Potherbs - Lettuce

From: L'agriculture et maison rustique, Charles Estienne (Rouen, 1658).

The Potherbs

(Chapter 12)



Lettuce is sown close and thick like cabbage in moist soil, well fumigated, rich, clean, light, and easy to plow, but mainly in March because it does not suffer much from cold or heat. If, however, you wish to sow it in September or any other time, choose hot and arid places, and dress it with a lot of well-rotted manure. For all that, it will survive the winter and may last some time after being replanted. It is necessary to water it for two or three days if the weather is not wet and rainy. And in sowing it must be watered, for doubt that the heat of the hay doesn’t cast out the seed. It will sprout on the fifth day. When it has reached the height of four or five leaves,  it is necessary to cull it by hand, never with a hook, to replant in rich soil, and spaced apart, and envelope the roots and the stem with cow, goat, or sheep manure. For they will be good for it, and water them on foot, but do not let them freeze or face too much heat.

Four kinds of lettuce are cultivated in France, not different from virtue, but by a more or less pleasant taste. They are known as Curled, Headed or Round, White or Common, and Small.

No one plants the Small lettuce anymore, nor the Common, but the large ones that are desired are curled and round, which are called Romaine, and have white seeds and are very large. For when replanted they become more beautiful and thick, and of sweeter flavor. Especially if its first stem is removed after replanting, because the first stem has too much milk, making it likely to turn bitter in the heat of the sun. If wide leaves are desired, when it begins to sprout, cut the stem in half and cover it with a clod of earth or a small tile. To make it beautiful and white, bind the top two days before it grows out of its bed, or replant it from one place to another, and put fine sand over it.

Round lettuce, leaved, and curled, which only grows slightly larger than the height of a palm, is done by baring the roots at the foot. After it has been replanted add some cow manure, cover the roots again, and water it. If it is too strong, divide the roots and cover it with an earthen pot, so that the crown is turned down. By this it will become bushy, headed, and white. If you wish to have beautiful leaves, bind the head two days before that, and cover them with soil up to the crown. This way they will become white and beautiful. Likewise the sand thrown over them makes them turn white.

If it is feared that it might not survive well due to the fault of the place or time, or might go to seed, pluck it up and transplant it elsewhere.

To make it smell good, sow it with lemon seed, or soak the seed in damask water or perfume for three whole days.

To make it mix with other salad herbs such as sorrel, rocket, and the like, all coming from the same root, put all the various seeds into well-turned sheep dung, and then plant it very deep, about eighteen fingers in the ground, and water it lightly but often, and take great care when it sprouts from the ground. The others, break three or four sheep or goat droppings and put the seeds into them, cover them with linen carefully shaped into the shape of a little sack, and plant them as above, with diligence as they sprout. Some gather the leaves of lettuce where they grow from the root, and in place of the harvested leaves put a seed of rocket, cress, sorrel, and the like, by this means it will sprout several diverse stalks.

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