Make Lettuce Immortal Again

mixed green salad in a bowlDon’t you hate it when you buy some nice lettuce and you get maybe 2 good salads out of it and then it starts going swampy and gross in the plastic bag? Me, too.

I have a fix for that.

When my grandmother used to get home from the supermarket, she had very precise ways of dealing with the produce. She had very scientific reasons why she did the leafy greens the way she did, and why she put the fruit here not there in the fridge, etc. I passed no judgment, but rather observed it as though I were an anthropologist.

lettuce leaves on paper towels
The paper towel method has many proponents.

She used to separate all the leaves of a head of lettuce and wash them and dry them with paper towels. Then she would wrap them up loosely in paper toweling and put that in a plastic bag and into the veg drawer in the fridge. Seemed like a lot of work upfront, but then throwing them into a bowl for a salad was quicker, so I guess it all balanced out.

Being lazy, however, I never took up this method.

rows of bagged salad mixesThis was all before bagged salad mixes, of course. Now there are all sorts of prewashed, pre-torn, bagged up lettuce blends you can just dig out by the handful, toss in a bowl and call it salad. I’ve done it myself many a time. However, within a few days you have to carefully sort out the rotting stuff and usually throw out half the bag. The darker red lettuces definitely rot sooner. Not only that, some of these bagged mixes are chlorinated. Terrific, huh?

What to do?

Learn From Your Asparagus

Here’s my answer: treat a head of lettuce like a bunch of asparagus. You probably already know that the best way to keep asparagus is to slice off the bottom of the stems with a sharp knife and stand them up in a jar with about 1/2 inch of water in it, and pop a plastic bag loosely over the whole thing. This makes a mini greenhouse for your bunch of asparagus.

A head of romaine with a disc of stem sliced off.
Slice the stem of the lettuce to it will drink up the water, just like you would with a bunch of flowers.
Lettuce standing in water in container
You need the cut stem of the lettuce in about 1/2″ of water.

You can do the same with lettuce. Slice off the butt to expose fresh stem, stand it upright in about 1/2 inch of water and pop a plastic bag loosely over the top. Your lettuce is now in its own mini-greenhouse. It is pert and happy as if in a hydroponic wonderland.

I usually use an appropriately-sized yogurt container for individual lettuces. But if I’ve brought home 3 or 4 varieties of lettuce from the farmer’s market, I use a single rectangular plastic box, about 8″x12″ with 4″ sides, tented with a big plastic shopping bag. In either case, you want the plastic bag to touch the leaves as little as possible.

several heads of lettuce in a rectangular plastic box
If need be, tie a string or use a giant rubber band around the plastic box to keep the lettuces upright.

No Longer Relegated to the Bin

Of course, now your lettuce cannot be stuffed into the veggie bin. But salad should be given pride of place in our fridge anyway, since we should all be eating more of it, right? Store it on the top shelf, making sure it is not touching the fridge ceiling if you can avoid it.

lettuce box loosely covered with plastic bag on top shelf of fridge
If you have a top freezer on your fridge, you’ll need to put the lettuce down below so it doesn’t get frozen at the top.
Lettuce in fridge door
Romaine likes to stand up straight.

Individual romaines stand very nicely in yogurt containers in the door of the fridge.

When you need lettuce, just break off the outermost leaves and take what you want, working your way inward. Then slice off a bit of the stem again, and replace the 1/2 inch of water with fresh. You can also chop off the top of the lettuce if you are making a caesar type of salad or are in a hurry.

What’s Immortality in Lettuce-Years?

Storing your lettuce in this way, it will keep for a very long time — certainly as long as it will take you to use it up. Indeed I did not realize how long until I got home after our last trip, to find a heart of romaine still happy in its mini-greenhouse. I probably bought it around September 15. We came back from our trip on October 16. There’s one month, right there. I had assumed the housesitters would have eaten it, but maybe they thought it was a science experiment.

romaine heart after 3 months
The immortal heart of romaine

And so it turned out to be. The cut end was tinged with brown, so I sliced it off and put it back in the refrigerator with fresh water.  Every so often, I check on it and give it fresh water. Here it is December 13th: crisp, yellow-green as the heart of romaine should be, and ready for duty. Virtually immortal! The experiment continues. I’ll update you when it finally decides it can’t go on.

Already Suited and Booted

living lettuceThe latest fashion in lettuce packaging is selling roots-on lettuce heads — plants, really, complete with the plug the seeds were planted in. Usually they are proffered in a cellophane cone almost like a bouquet of flowers. Sometimes several varieties of lettuce occupy one plug, which makes for a convenient mixed salad.

These rooted lettuces also work with the mini-greenhouse method. You don’t have to slice off the stem butt (I suppose really it’s the foot) — you just need the roots to reach the water. You don’t need the cellophane cone, but you do need a plastic bag tent. When you get down to the innermost leaves, you can plant it out in your garden if it is not winter, and see if it will take. You may get a whole second generation of lettuce that way.

Wait! There’s More!

New lettuce leaves sprouting from stump
This is 14 days growth on a leftover stump of roots-on lettuce. The leaves are about 2.5 inches so far, almost ready to be baby salad leaves. A lettuce will re-sprout even if it is just a stem with no roots.

But it doesn’t end there. Once you have eaten your head of romaine lettuce, you can also regrow yet more lettuce from it, if you have a sunny window. Just set the stump in a 1/2 inch water in your window, without the tent, and leaves will start growing from the center. You should be able to harvest more leaves in a few weeks.

So there you have it: you’ll never have to clean out rotting lettuce from the veg drawer again. And you’ll get another generation from it as well.

That’s almost immortal, for a head of lettuce, anyway.

mixed salad
Eat your salad!


2 Replies to “Make Lettuce Immortal Again

  1. I never knew any of this, can’t wait to try it out! It’s always a challenge to get through lettuce before it goes bad when you’re the only one in the house eating it…
    Any more tips you can share from your grandmother’s domestic science?

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