The Heritage Farm Collection: 'Grandma Hadley's' Lettuce

The ‘Heritage Farm Collection’ debuted in the 2012 Seed Savers Exchange catalog and illustrates our latest efforts to move varieties from our seed vault to America’s dinner table.

The histories shared in the print catalog are a condensed summary of the full story. We have often collected a more complete history. We hope you enjoy this blog series, in which we publish full portraits of the varieties we are introducing (or re-introducing) in 2016.

Lettuce - 'Grandma Hadley’s'

  • Butterhead with heavy dark purple tinge on leaf edges

  • Moderate sized plants grow to 6” tall by 11” in diameter

  • Buttery and crisp leaves are slightly sweet

We grow hundreds of plant varieties at Heritage Farm in Northeast Iowa each year, but Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) also distributes varieties to growers around the world through our Member-Grower Evaluation Network (M-GEN) in an effort to build a larger base of information on each variety. M-Gen participants grow and observe select varieties and provide us with plant characteristics, performance data, and photographs of each variety throughout the growing season.

In 2013 M-GEN growers evaluated 4 heirloom butterhead lettuce varieties. The favorite in M-GEN, by far, was ‘Grandma Hadley’s’. M-GEN growers rated it the most productive, healthiest, and slowest to bolt. Its taste reviews were on par with the others, but its superior performance earned it the top overall rating.

Pam Andrew donated ‘Grandma Hadley’s’ to SSE in 1988, not long after receiving it from her great-aunt, Flossie (Higgins) Cramer.  Pam wrote in her donation letter: "she sent me lettuce seed that has been in our family for generations.  I remember eating it at my Grandfather's in wilted lettuce salad as a child.  Flossie remembers her Grandma Hadley growing it---which was my Great-Great-Grandmother!...Since Flossie no longer gardens, she said it was up to me to keep the seed going and I'm afraid I'll lose it.  As I mentioned, I'm new to gardening..."

As an adult, Pam tried growing many different types of lettuce, but never found anything that worked as well for the wilted salad as her family’s variety.  Pam eventually called Flossie to ask what kind of lettuce they used to grow.  Flossie said she still had seed in the garage (she grew and saved seed from it each year) and put some in the mail for Pam.  When the seed arrived, Pam eagerly planted it and waited for it to germinate.  At that time Pam was living in Arizona, and when it finally sprouted, the “lettuce” looked like grass.  Pam called Flossie, who just about died laughing – she had mistakenly sent Pam grass seed which was on the same shelf as her lettuce seed.

Flossie was from Crawford County, IL and passed away in 2002 at age 104.

Put it on the dinner table!

Grandma Hadley's lettuce came to us with a recipe for wilted salad with hot bacon dressing:

Grow it!

This crop can be direct seeded into the soil after the last spring frost. You can also start plants indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost date.

These seeds can be broadcast evenly in sections of the garden to create a bed of tender leaves and thinned to 6 inches apart as they mature. Plant your seeds 1/8-1/2 in. deep.

You can harvest the outer leaves of this plant as they mature or wait till it produces a full-sized head. To prevent the plant from bolting, keep the leaves well watered and cool.

This crop prefers to grow in cool seasons, so gardeners in Zones 8 and warmer should plant this vegetable in the fall. The shade from taller plants can help keep this vegetable cool in sunny gardens and warm climates.

The CORE Project

This project represents the efforts of our Preservation program to document our Collection through the Evaluation and the Collection Origins Research Effort (CORE).

The CORE project began in 2011. It is an effort to record the Collection’s cultural history by gathering, documenting, and sharing stewardship history. Our comprehensive Evaluation program began in 2010. Evaluation staff document Collection growouts, including morphological traits, photographs, taste evaluation, and purity assessment. These programs converge to give us a rich portrait of individual varieties in our Collection.

When we identify varieties with both a compelling story and outstanding performance traits, they are ‘short listed’ for consideration in the ‘Heritage Farm Collection.’ Most ‘Heritage Farm Collection’ introductions are either family heirlooms or historic commercial varieties that faded from commerce.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.