Isn’t it funny the unexpected complications that sometimes arise when you start something new?

This is Chefs Collaborative’s pilot year with the RAFT (Renewing America’s Food Traditions) Grow-Out projectSixteen intriguing heirloom varieties of vegetables, all with historical ties to New England, were chosen and “grown-out” by farmers in our three pilot areas for local chefs to buy and celebrate on their menus.  The first variety to come in, which we’ve had for a few months now, was Forellenschuss lettuce.

Forellenschuss is German for “trout, self-enclosing,” which refers to its speckled nature (like a trout) – in this case green with rusty red speckles, and the type of head shape it has, which is romaine type.  The lettuce was grown in both Holland and Austria in the 1600’s, then it traveled through Germany (hence it’s nifty name), then Canada, to arrive in the US in the late 1700s.  It has been grown in New England and around the U.S. ever since.  It is routinely referred to as one of the tastiest and most popular backyard heirloom lettuces.

So what’s this complication I alluded to, you might ask?  Well, it’s those lovely speckles.  In the age of generic romaine and iceberg, there are apparently a lot of folks who just can’t wrap their minds around the idea that their lettuce is supposed to be speckled.  They take one look at that lovely trout-like pattern and immediately call up associations with something they left in the back of the fridge for too long.  That’s right; they think it’s rotten, or diseased.

Luckily, we have a lot of savvy farmers and chefs out there providing some much needed PR for this lettuce.  Matt Tracy and Catherine Mardosa at Red Planet Vegetables put Forellenschuss in their salad mix for CSA members.  Because of the nature of the CSA model (it’s prebought) and probably also the nature of CSA members (a little more veggie adventurous), they are able push the boundaries a bit more than they can at the farmer’s market.

Barbara O’Reilly at Bally Machree Farm told me they’ve been growing Forellenschuss lettuce for years, and yes – some people think it is diseased – but they’ve built up such trust with their customers that they are willing to try something they might have otherwise been hesitant about.

Perhaps my favorite Forellenschuss-championing story is about chef Richard Garcia at Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro in Foxboro, MA.  Rich has been using the lettuce in his “Romaine Hearts Salad,” but he doesn’t stop with just using it.  According to a conversation I had with one of his cooks, Rich asks his wait staff to learn and share details of the heirloom’s history with customers.  The cook kind of looked at me out of the corner of his eye as he said “really, he grills them on it.”  I nodded appreciatively, then he added, “If they don’t know enough, he gets really upset… he might even send them home.”  Really?  I think there might have been a little exaggeration going on there, but we’re still psyched to have Rich as a Forellenschuss championing pioneer.

So, might I suggest you take a trip to your local farmer’s market or have dinner at one of the participating RAFT Grow-Out restaurants (in Portsmouht, NH, Providence, RI and Boston, MA)?  If you see some Forellenschuss lettuce, pick up a head; if it’s on the menu, order it!  It’s delicious; you won’t be disappointed.  Because seriously, this lettuce is not diseased.

– Anne Obelnicki, RAFT Grow-Out Project Coordinator

Some rows of mixed greens at Sustainable Farm Products include the notorious Forellenschuss: