Lettuce, Stem; or Celtuce

Lactuca sativa, Augustana Group and Asparagina Group

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Also Chinese lettuce, asparagus lettuce, woh sun (Chinese)

On a rainy Saturday in November on Flushing’s Main Street, these rusty-looking lettuces were being snatched up by hordes of shoppers as quickly as the bins could be refilled. “Chinese people love this,” an elderly woman told me as I watched her heft four large “trees” into her bright pink grocery bag. She said she was going to make a salad with sweet-sour dressing. Because greens are rarely eaten raw in China, I assumed this to be a Western adaptation; but in the authoritative Vegetables in South-East Asia, Herklots described “a race of lettuce which originated in China in which the edible part is the thickened soft stem, which grows to 3 feet or more becoming thick and tender. It has long been cultivated in China under the name woo chu. The tender young leaves are used in salads or as greens and the succulent stem is peeled and sliced and eaten raw, or cooked.” However, most of China’s crop of stem lettuce goes into Shanghai pickles (called “lettuce pickle” in Chinese groceries), according to A Popular Guide to Chinese Vegetables by Dahlen and Phillipps.

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