The Bitterness of Lettuce

Finding a locally grown piece of lettuce that is not bitter is difficult in the tropics. That’s because nighttime temps are generally too high, resulting in a woody and bitter leaf.   I have tried over and over, with lettuce from the farmer’s market and even a locally grown brand of green leaf from Costco.  Each time, it’s tasted more like raw kale than anything you’d want to eat raw.  So the lettuce I’ve eaten tends to be shipped all the way from, you guessed it, California.

But recently, nighttime temps were cool for over a month, and I held out hope of finding a good-tasting, local green leaf lettuce.

I also wanted to eat something that did not require more than its weight in fossil fuel to be shipped to me. Funny, I thought I’d be eating guavas and mangoes every day here, but the only local fruit at the farmer’s market is papaya. Some people sell mangoes out of their front yards but want like $2.50 per, so barring fruit falling on my head while I walked around the Bishop Museum grounds, I haven’t had too much locally grown stuff.

Where to go? If you drive Lunalilo Home Road on Thursday through Saturday, you’ll see handpainted signs pointing you to “VEGGIES.”

I followed the signs to the veggie stand.

Behind Kaiser High School in Hawaii Kai, maybe a half mile or so from Koko Marina, in the shadow of Koko Head Crater, there are several small farms on a dead-end road. This seems impossible in an area where modern lot sizes are so small. Roosters and chickens wander about and there are no fences around the rows of greens on one side of the road, just signs saying NO TRESPASSING and a little old man in a straw hat meandering about.

The veggie stand sells $10 boxes of veggies, or veggies by the piece, at about $2 per. I looked at the lettuce and it looked thinner and more delicate than the usual local lettuce. The big box was by far the better deal. It contained:

  • 5 heads lettuce (2 Romaine, 1 red, 1 green, 1 butter)
  • 2 daikon (white radishes with a milder flavor than regular radish)
  • 4 big bunches of choy sum (not sure what this is, but I think of it as a Chinese spinach)
  • Bok choy (again a big amount)
  • Some other type of green I could not ID
  • Green onions (a huge amount, more than my family of green-onion loathers could possibly eat, but I keep sticking it into dishes anyway).\

They also had various herbs and huge beets, but I stuck to the box, handed over my 10 spot without waiting in line, and was on my merry way.  Oh, and I had Kaiya in tow, who was trying her best to jump out in front of the cars haggling for parking spots around the road, so I could not stick around asking questions about greens.

I was feeling especially organized and so I washed and cut up everything and bagged it. Good thing, too, because there were quite a few critters who had hitched rides.  Ants of new sizes and shapes, some giant, some small; spiders, small worms. Protein, anyone?

The box was meant to last one week, but it lasted us two. Mainly because I didn’t know how to cook everything and because we also had some broccoli from other sources we had to eat.

At this point, I wished fervently for a compost pile, or at least a worm box (vermicomposter?) so I could put these bits and pieces to use. But I have no garden, so it wouldn’t do me much good anyway.

Published by Margaret Dilloway

Middle grade and women's fiction novelist. FIVE THINGS ABOUT AVA ANDREWS, (Balzer + Bray 2020); SUMMER OF A THOUSAND PIES. MOMOTARO: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (Disney Hyperion); TALE OF THE WARRIOR GEISHA and SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW, out now from Putnam Books. HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE was a finalist for the John Gardner fiction award. THE CARE AND HANDLING OF ROSES WITH THORNS is the 2013 Literary Tastes Best Women's Fiction Pick for the American Library Association. Mother of three children, wife to one, slave to a cat, and caretaker of the best overgrown teddy bear on Earth, Gatsby the Goldendoodle.

One thought on “The Bitterness of Lettuce

  1. We have chilly nights here – at a high elevation. Short growing season, too. Most of our produce comse from the Willamette Valley and California. We’ve got plenty of sage and juniper. Bet lettuce grows nice here. We’re rarely above 50 at night even in August.

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