Tennis Ball Lettuce was found in the United States as early as the eighteenth century. It was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. He grew it in the famed garden at Monticello beginning in 1809. When describing Tennis Ball, he wrote, “it does not require so much care and attention” as other varieties of lettuce.
Tennis Ball Lettuce is a Butterhead variety of lettuce. It is considered to be the origin of today’s Boston lettuces. Heads of Tennis Ball Lettuce grow in tightly formed rosettes. The leaves are light green in color and have a soft, smooth texture.
Lettuces can be succession planted to be enjoyed throughout the growing season. They prefer the cooler conditions of spring and fall to summer’s heat. When sowing in the summer, consider planting lettuce in the shade of larger, established plants. They can be grown as companions with dill, mint, chives, beets, cucumber, and beans. Lettuce is one of the few vegetables that can be grown successfully with dill.
In Thomas Jefferson’s day, the leaves of Tennis Ball Lettuce were preserved by pickling them in a salt brine solution. Doing so allowed the leaves to be stored and enjoyed during the long winter when fresh greens were unavailable. The leaves were then served as an accompaniment to the main course during a meal.
Here at 1840 Farm, we don’t feel the need to pickle these tender greens. Instead, we enjoy them dressed lightly and served as a main course or side dish. They pair wonderfully with roasted potatoes.
Tennis Ball Lettuce is listed on Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. The Ark of Taste lists 200 foods that are in danger of becoming extinct. Here’s hoping that we’ll all be able to enjoy delicious Tennis Ball Lettuce from our gardens for many generations to come.
We plant Tennis Ball Lettuce every year in our heirloom garden. We’ve even included Tennis Ball Heirloom Lettuce in our 1840 Farm Heirloom Seed Collection. Tennis Ball Lettuce was included in our Easy Keepers Garden Heirloom Seed Collection this year. You can learn more about all of our seed collections by visiting The 1840 Farm Mercantile Shop on Etsy.