Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tom Thumb Lettuce

Lettuce from 2012 Garden
It still amazes me how many heirloom varieties of vegetables are available for purchase.  Lettuce, in particular, comes in so many sizes, shapes, and flavors.  Every year, I am intrigued by a different heirloom variety.  In 2012, I grew both Tennis Ball and Merveille de Quatre Saisons.  The former, I absolutely loved.  The latter was much too bitter for my taste.  This year, Tom Thumb caught my eye.  Besides having a great name, it meets my requirements in size and flavor.  I can't wait to try it!

Tom Thumb lettuce dates to the mid-1850s, when it was introduced to the English market by H. Wheeler & Sons.  The variety was named for its miniature size; the entire head of lettuce is about the size of a baseball.  The flavor is mild and buttery.  Miniature lettuce like Tom Thumb was traditionally pickled with cloves and stored for winter use.  In 1868, James Gregory of Massachusetts first imported Tom Thumb lettuce to America.  The variety never became popular in this country. 

Possibly due to its relative unpopularity in 19th century America, I was unable to find any references to Tom Thumb in Fearing Burr's classic book, The Field and Garden Vegetables of America (earlier edition published as Garden Vegetables and How to Cultivate Them).  However, I did find his general remarks on lettuce to be quite well-spoken:

Lettuce is said to be of Asiatic origin.  It is a hardy, annual plant, and, when fully developed, from two to three feet in height, with an erect, branching stem.  The flowers are compound, yellow, usually about half an inch in diameter; the seeds are oval, flattened, and either white, brown, or black, according to the variety.  Nearly thirty thousand are contained in an ounce, and their vitality is retained five years.*

Tom Thumb Spec's
AKA's: Wheeler's, Landreth's Forcing, Holmes's Forcing, Early Green Stone
Seed Type: Black Seeded
Days to Maturity: 50
Size: Miniature

*Burr, Fearing. The Field and Garden Vegetables of America. Boston: William F. Gill & Co. (1874): 344.

Other Sources:
Weaver, William Woys. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening. Henry Holt & Co. (1997): 188.
Coulter, Lynn. Gardening with Heirloom Seeds. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press (2006): 39. 

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