The Yedikule marul is a type of romaine lettuce famously grown in the Yedikule bostans of Istanbul. Being a lettuce, its wild progenitor likely stemmed from the Lactuca species from southwest Asia and the L. serriola, an a type of weed located in temperate and subtropical zones (Zohary 2012). Ancient Egyptians first cultivated lettuce as early as 2680 BC from a weed for oil use. Later, the Greeks and Romans farmed lettuce seeds and leaves that led to documented cultivation of the plant by the medieval age. By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, European understandings of lettuce had resulted in medicinal discoveries as well as classifications of different species (Weaver 1997, 170-172). It is then safe to assume then during this transition, the Byzantines had adopted lettuce cultivation from the Romans, which consequently resulted in the Ottomans continuing the trend through the fertile soils of Istanbul.
In terms of consumption, lettuce has changed since antiquity. Around 50 AD, the Romans cooked the leaves with oil and vinegar while smaller leaves were occasionally eaten raw. After the Romans, medieval Europe popularized poaching lettuce alongside mixing the leaves with hot oil and vinegar (Weaver 1997, 170-172). Lettuce is still mainly consumed for its leaves today while some stems and seeds are used for oil. The Yedikule marul, being a romaine species, is thus most seen in salads with a Mediterranean seasoning of olive oil, vinegar, and spices rather than a Western European style of salad dressing. Differing from its earlier wild weed form, modern lettuce is much less prickly, and it is known that wild lettuce leaves resemble closely to tobacco leaves with a more bitter taste (Katz and Weaver 2003, 377).
When one grows the Yedikule lettuce, full sun is a best option. On the technical side, nitrogen-rich soils with a pH from 6.0 to 6.8 and a temperature between 16 and 18 °C is preferred. Temperatures above 27 °C will likely destroy the germination of lettuce seeds while some can survive as low as 7 °C or as high as 24 °C if shade is provided or else the plant will bolt. Having a high water content of around 94.9%, lettuce cannot be frozen, canned, or dried and hence, must be eaten when fresh (Bradley 2009, 129). When planting, lettuces are placed in thick, straight rows. After developing several leaves, they may be transplanted to individual spots 20 to 36 cm apart. With more space, they are able to receive more sunlight and develop greater nutrients (Weaver 1977, 175-176).
Regarding pests, lettuce is targeted by cutworms, wireworms, nematodes, tarnished plant bugs and aphids, leafhoppers, thrips, leafminers, flea beetles, caterpillars, slugs and snails, as well as mammals like rabbits and groundhogs (Bradley 2009, 129-132). The plants itself contains compounds like sesquiterpene lactones, flavonol, and glycosides which protect it against pests (United States Department of Agricultures). For domesticated lettuce, herbicides are used to control weeds and viral diseases such as the mosaic virus spread by aphids that stunt plant growth and fungal diseases that rot leaves (Davey et al. 2007, 222-225). In the Geoponika, caterpillars were averted by throwing ashes of the vine into water or applying asphaltus and sulpur to the plants. Mixing and boiling urine and amurca will also destroy caterpillars (Cassianus 2011, 250-251). It is also advised to smear fresh cow dung on the lettuce to obtain saucer-shaped leaves with no stalk. Dividing each plant with a knife and placing them in an “unpitched potsherd” will allow the plant to grow upwards in a healthy manner as well (Cassianus 2011, 252). Here we see the similarities of killing off insects so that the vegetable can grow, even though classical methods involved organic methods while modern techniques employ chemical pesticides.
The Yedikule marul appears a lush bright green. The stem is white and blends into the light green of the leaves. The tips of the leaves appear wrinkled and soft while the stem is firm. After a few days in the refrigerator however, the whole plant seems to have softened. Thick veins running from the stem thin and branch out at the leaves. Further, a few black spots litter the stem pointing to the plant’s organic nature. The plant smells fresh, blending in a sense of the earth with its leafy aroma. When eaten, the stem is surprisingly moist. Even after a few days of fridge storage, one can noticeably taste the juices of the lettuce along with its audible crunch. As for the leaves, they have a mild yet refreshing taste. Due to the freshness of the vegetable, the leaves seem to almost dissolve in one’s mouth without much effort needed to chew. Taken together, the stem and leaf compliment each other in texture and taste. While the stem is crisp and juicy, the leaf is tender and less damp, thus offering a great spectrum of flavors within one bite.
Personally, I am familiar with lettuce due to my liking for Caesar salads. However, the Yedikule marul is definitely a new taste and texture for me. On the whole, it feels fresher due to its water content as well as the crispness of its stems. The color also appears fuller with a stronger green at the leaves and a brighter white at the stems.
One notable recipe utilizing the Yedikule marul is the Yedikule lettuce mixed salad. The recipe is as follows (Yemek Tarifleri):
12 red chicory leaves
12 leaves of Yedikule lettuce
Half a bunch of endivy
Half a bunch of herb cress
8 Priceworthy leaves
4 hard-boiled eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
Wash and mix the chicory, Yedikule lettuce, watercress herb, and endivy with filtered water. Divide the leaves into chunks into a serving dish.
Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half, and place salad on top. Sprinkle on freshly ground black pepper. Pour on mustard sauce.
The mustard sauce is comprised of 5 tablespoons mustard, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise in a bowl. Stir in 1 clove garlic peel, 2 tablespoons yogurt, and half-a-tea-cup of extra virgin olive oil. Mix well.
Bradley, Fern M., Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin, eds. 2009. The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control. Pennsylvania: Rodale.
Cassianus, Bassus. Geoponika: Farm Work: A Modern Translation of the Roman and Byzantine Farming Handbook. 2011. Totnes, Devon: Prospect Books, 9-55 and 246-267.
Davey, M. R., and Anthony, P., P. Van Hooff, J. B. Power, and K. C. Lowe. 2007. “Lettuce”. Transgenic Crops. Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry. Volume 59. Springer.
Katz, Solomon H. and Williams Woys Weaver. 2003. Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. Volume 2. New York: Scribner.
United States Department of Agriculture. “Developing Multi-Species Insect Resistance in Romaine Lettuce.” Retrieved 5 April 2012. http://www.reeis.usda.gov/web/crisprojectpages/0198636-developing-multi-species-insect-resistance-in-romaine-lettuce.html.
Weaver, Williams Woys. 1997. Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting, Seed Saving and Cultural History. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Yemek Tarifleri. “Yedikule marullu karışık salata.” Accessed August 2, 2014. http://www.lezzet.com.tr/yemek-tarifleri/salata-tarifleri/yedikule-marullu-karisik-salata-6112#ixzz39EfrKrJh .
Zohary, Daniel, Maria Hopf, and Ehud Weiss. 2012. Domestication of Plants in the Old World: The Origin and Spread of Domesticated Plants in Southwest Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.