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Wed, Oct. 23

Williams: Defending the reputation of iceberg lettuce

Iceberg lettuce is used as a main ingredient in soups, appetizers and main dishes. (Carlos Osorio/AP, file)

Iceberg lettuce is used as a main ingredient in soups, appetizers and main dishes. (Carlos Osorio/AP, file)

For many years, I have been hearing that iceberg lettuce is a worthless form of green leaves that should be shunned and even banned from the kitchen. I don’t have any evidence of it, but there’s probably an organization out there somewhere carrying signs blaspheming iceberg lettuce and demonstrating against all it stands for.

Well, I say enough! I say it’s time we give iceberg lettuce the recognition it deserves.

As a proud six-decade member of the venerable BLT Club, I have probably consumed more bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches than 94 percent of my species. Let me tell you that the “L” in BLT never stood for arugula, Batavia, endive, dandelion greens or romaine; it stood for iceberg, period! I don’t even want to hear the word “kale” in any part of this conversation, either!

I just ran into Ray at the gym who says his ex-girlfriend referred to iceberg lettuce as “truck driver lettuce.” He emphasized the “ex” part of this girl friend, so I conclude that Ray and I can link arms unembarrassed in our march for better treatment of iceberg lettuce.

On the other hand, when I mentioned iceberg lettuce to friends Dan and Lizz, in unison, they shouted, “rabbit food!” It’s obviously time to change the hearts and minds of some Americans!

For those who snub iceberg lettuce, you should know that one of its undeniable benefits is that it travels well with minimum wilting. You try standing around in an over-the-road tractor trailer for hours on end, then check your wilt factor! That’s only one reason that iceberg is the acknowledged most popular lettuce in the US.

One cup of iceberg lettuce will give you between 100 to 190 milligrams of potassium, and it’s low in calories. Apologists for other forms of lettuce will argue that iceberg offers the lowest levels of vitamins and nutrients. Well hey, this isn’t a perfect world!

Iceberg, with only 75 calories per head, may help in weight loss. It’s high in the mineral folate, so it can help prevent birth defects. And it contains vitamins A and C. Iceberg lettuce is used as a main ingredient in soups, appetizers and main dishes. And it can be an alternative to shredded cabbage since it’s sweeter and milder in flavor.

Even James Beard — the father of American gastronomy — was a fan, saying, “Many people damn it, but it adds good flavor and a wonderfully crisp texture to a salad. “It also keeps longer than other lettuces.” So now it sounds as if Ray and I and James could lock arms if James hadn’t already gone to the big lettuce lunchery in the sky.

So, where did iceberg lettuce come from? At one time, it was known as crisphead lettuce. In the 1920s and 30s, Bruce Church, founder of Fresh Express, popularized the idea of shipping lettuce across the U.S. from Salinas, California, to spots on the East Coast. Ice was used to maintain its crispness. As the train pulled into each stop, folks would call out excitedly, “The icebergs are coming, the icebergs are coming!” The name would stick. Before that people had to depend on what they could grow locally and preserve from their gardens.

Who among you are willing to join Ray, me and James in our quest to spread iceberg lettuce wedges throughout this noble country? I’m thinking we might call our new group “The Wedgies.”

I’ve been worrying about leaving a legacy once I’m gone. The Wedgies just might be it!

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