De­li­cious golden oldies

Her­itage veg of­fers us an in­sight into the flavours of the past, says He­len Bil­liald. Here’s her pick of the best for colour, taste… and his­tory!

Garden Answers (UK) - - Contents -

With the thud of 2019 seed cat­a­logues land­ing on our door­mats, it’s the time of year for grow-your-own en­thu­si­asts ev­ery­where to lose them­selves in dreams of the year ahead. But it’s not just the new­est cul­ti­vars that are grab­bing our at­ten­tion. Her­itage cul­ti­vars con­tinue to grow in pop­u­lar­ity, with more and more seed com­pa­nies ded­i­cat­ing space to these old timers. Flick­ing through seed cat­a­logues it’s easy to imag­ine that we live in an age rich in choice, but it’s es­ti­mated that more than 90% of the world’s veg­etable cul­ti­vars have dis­ap­peared over the past 100 years. Many slipped away be­cause home grow­ers no longer saved their own seed, oth­ers were lost with the ex­pense of tri­alling and reg­is­ter­ing seeds brought

about by the in­tro­duc­tion of new EU laws in the 1970s. These losses are one rea­son why grow­ers are keen to res­cue those that are left. Flavour is an­other of the big draws to grow­ing her­itage cul­ti­vars; it’s said that mod­ern breed­ing has fo­cused more on uni­for­mity and dis­ease re­sis­tance rather than on how good they taste. Along with peo­ple’s in­ter­est in pre­serv­ing flavour and di­ver­sity, many fall in love with heir­looms sim­ply be­cause of the ro­mance of them and the sto­ries they tell. Take for in­stance the climb­ing French bean ‘Chero­kee Trail of Tears’. The na­tive Amer­i­can Chero­kee peo­ple car­ried this red­dish-pod­ded black bean with them when they were forced off their land by Euro­pean set­tlers in the 1800s. Then there’s bronze-flushed but­ter­head ‘Grandpa Ad­mire’s Let­tuce’ named af­ter

Amer­i­can Civil War vet­eran Ge­orge Ad­mire whose fam­ily con­tin­ued to save seed un­til pass­ing it to a seed bank in the 1970s. There are hun­dreds of such sto­ries that we can all re­late to to­day. By sow­ing and sav­ing her­itage veg­etable seeds, we can ex­tend the range of crops we grow, ex­pe­ri­ence de­li­cious flavours and un­usual colours, and pre­serve them for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to come.

En­joy the flavours en­joyed by our grand­par­ents

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