Driving a wedge

The business section of today’s Commercial Appeal included this article on efforts being made by iceberg lettuce farmers to reverse their product’s losses in market share.

As the story points out, iceberg lettuce is pretty much devoid of flavor or nutrients. The only redeeming use for iceberg lettuce is the gimmicky wedge salad. It’s not cuisine, but it can be fun. That big hunk of lettuce like a grin on the plate. No matter how you gussy it up, though, iceberg lettuce is essentially just a dressing delivery system.

And iceberg lettuce is even losing out on the wedge salad market. A while back, we had an excellent, fun salad at Encore. A prominent local food blog described it like this:

A crisp half-head of Bibb lettuce rested on a half avocado that rested on a slice of grapefruit that rested on four slices of watermelon radish. Add four elephants and a giant turtle and we would have had all of creation before us.

That Bibb lettuce was more than just a placeholder. It played its part in the salad. It added texture and flavor and even a smidge of nutrition. There’s a good picture of the salad on Encore’s website.

Still, the thought of iceberg lettuce does stir up considerable nostalgia. The first thing that came to mind was the salad bar at Bonanza when I was about eight. Long before I ever could conceive of mesclun greens and goat milk feta vinaigrette, there was iceberg lettuce, purple cabbage, julienned carrots, cherry tomatoes, and thousand island dressing. Take that and the junior ribeye that I always got cooked medium-well, and you had some high society dining.

I was somewhat surprised to see that iceberg lettuce is still the single biggest lettuce crop in the U.S. I don’t want to see any species or variety cease to exist, but with all the other, better choices of lettuces out there, I would think that iceberg would be reduced to being a novelty, nostalgia crop. Maybe one day it will be.

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