|When most of
us think of vegetables, the perfect specimens found in the produce department
of the supermarket come to mind. Or, if we're lucky, we savor the
homegrown vegetables from our own gardens or those of neighbors, friends
and family. There is another, important catagory of vegetable that
is returning to favor: heirlooms. Just what is an heirloom?
It is a variety that is open pollinated (or comes true to type from seed
through succeeding generations). This is the opposite, if you will,
of our modern day hybrids which do not come true from seed. Although
opinions among experts vary, most people define heirloom varieties as those
that are at least 50 years old -- many well known vintage varieties go
back 100 years and some have several centuries of history.
Heirloom purists insist that old-time varieties must also possess a third characteristic, that of a history or tradition of its own. Many of these vegetables were brought to the United States by immigrants or were saved and improved by a single family or group. Sometimes these individual histories are well known, other times the background is vague and referred to as a legend. In any event, knowing the history of a particular variety can add to the enjoyment of growing and eating it.
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