We all like to play “remember when”, and usually when we do, we are talking about the “good old days”. Like when gas was cheap or when you called the doctor’s office and they’d say, “Come right in,” or when a college education didn’t cost more than a house … When only sailors and convicts got tattoos … But sometimes, the good old days weren’t so good. And what got me thinking about this was … lettuce.
When I first moved to Vermont from Manhattan, more than 30 years ago, the shopping in Manchester was a shock. I’m thinking, especially, of the grocery shopping.
I’d come from a place where you could find pretty much anything you fancied. And it would be fresh. I remember stopping, many times, at the fish market near my apartment just to see what looked interesting. Well, when I got to Vermont, I learned that the grocery stores in Manchester weren’t into fresh seafood. For that, there was a man who drove up once a week from Massachusetts (I think), in a panel truck that he had loaded with whatever fresh seafood he’d bought that morning at market. I bought a lot of mussels and clams and other things from him. They weren’t cheap but there was no alternative.
The fresh vegetable situation was, if anything, worse.
There wasn’t much selection and everything looked old and weary.
But the worst thing, to my mind, was the lettuce. The selection was limited to iceberg. Which was bad enough. Iceberg was the most unfashionable of all varieties of lettuce. Worse, the heads of iceberg lettuce on display were old and hard enough to serve as bowling balls.
There was one little grocer in Manchester—Healy’s—that carried butter crunch lettuce, and sometimes Romaine, and if you were quick, you could get there ahead of the other frustrated foodies who could not abide iceberg lettuce. I remember organizing my shopping schedule around the day when Healy’s would have fresh lettuce.
Well, this all changed. Slowly, at first. And then, all at once.
Lots of people, like me, started growing our own lettuce. The prime inspiration for this was Shep Ogden and his seed business, The Cook’s Garden, right here in Londonderry. The Cook’s Garden was, for a while, probably the leading marketer of organic seeds. And it was trendy in the media, appearing in everything from the New York Times to Martha Stewart Living.
The Cooks Garden had seeds for all sorts of varieties of lettuce and you could plant early and be harvesting black seeded Simpson, in June. You could grow romaine, arugula, radicchio, oak leaf, red chard … and on and on. This, inevitably, led to the appearance of lettuce snobs. Mine is fresher, more exotic, more organic and more perfect than yours. But this is the human condition and cannot be blamed on lettuce.
If you were really serious, you could build a greenhouse and be eating your own lettuce all year round.
And if you weren’t serious—or that serious, anyway—there were people starting organic gardening businesses who were. They would come by your house and drop off whatever was fresh that week.
And, of course, the groceries in Manchester caught on and caught up so that, before long, you could find something on display other than an old rock-hard head of iceberg.
So, everything came around, full circle, as it almost always does.
The other day, I was out with some friends for lunch. We were asked for our salad orders. They were, unanimously, for the oh-so-trendy wedge of iceberg with the BLT dressing.
As someone once said, “Stand in one place long enough and the world will come back around to you.”
Lettuce and gardening are, of course, wonderful summer themes. As are biking, fishing and golf—all of which we look at in this issue. We have a story about a couple who moved to our little corner of the world and built themselves an 22-hole golf course in their back yard. Our friend Luke Stafford checked out yoga at the Wanderlust Festival on Stratton Mountain and we also visited a painting competition in Bennington. Lots to do now that summer has brought our green mountains once more to a state of gentle grace.
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