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!
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