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A Word About Heirlooms

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Happened to catch an Emeril episode the other night, where he used the term "heirloom" as if it represented a specific tomato variety.

He's not alone. More and more I notice chefs, home cooks, greengrocers, and others using the term that way.

So, just to clear the air a little, here's what heirlooms are:

Heirloom refers to oldtime vegetable, fruit, and livestock varieties that share certain things in common. In terms of the fruits and veggies, they are:

1. Open pollinated. In the absence of cross pollination or mutation, these varieties will breed true-to-type. In other words, the kiddies are just like the parents. It also means you can save seed, year to year---which is what makes them heirlooms; they've been passed down, one generation to the next.

2. Time in grade. There are some great modern open pollinated varieties. And more being bred every day. But to qualify as an heirloom, the variety must have been around for awhile. 50 years is the most common figure used, but there are others. There's a movement afoot, for instance, to use 1940 as a cut-off date.

3. Taste!: Hybrids are selected for characteristics that help them meet the needs of the modern food distribution system. Flavor is not one of those; so if hybrids have any flavor it sneaks in as genetic baggage. Heirlooms, on the other hand, have been selected, though the years, with flavor as the only criterium. So they just taste better, as a class.

In the subgroup "family heirloom" (as opposed to those which were commercial introductions) there are some great stories as well, which makes them even more appealing.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #2 of 20
Heirloom tomatoes are amazing, especially for a caprese!

Thanks for the info!
If you want to take a few minutes to help me out, fill out this questionnaire, it is for a class project. Thanks!
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AKILA- The French Cook
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If you want to take a few minutes to help me out, fill out this questionnaire, it is for a class project. Thanks!
http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=46963289883

AKILA- The French Cook
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post #3 of 20
Thread Starter 
Yeah, they are, Akila.

Tomatoes are the most commonly grown garden vegetable in North America. So there is, naturally enough, a focus on them. But you should try some other heirloom vegetable types.

Compare, say, Early Crookneck squash with the hybrid straightnecks, for instance, and you'll never eat anouther straightneck. Or sample some heirloom brassicas. Omigod! Broccoli that tastes like broccoli; cabbage that has some real flavor; turnips that really bring something to the table besides bulk.

Another aspect. For various reasons, the food distribution system is based on standardized shapes, colors, and sizes. But not all tomatoes are smooth, round and red. Indeed, there are 8 colors (yellow, orange, pink, purple, black, white, red, and green-when-ripe; in a plethora of shapes and sizes, most of which you never see in the stores.

Did you know that orange carrots are a Johnny come lately, and there are at least for other colors (red, yellow, purple, white). That okra comes in red, white, and ivory as well as green. That..... well, I don't want to get on a soapbox. But once you start understanding heirlooms you understand why creative chefs want them.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #4 of 20
Quite right, KYHeirloomer. I grew up in a country that had not yet mechanized its agriculture and the food certainly was different. The biggest complaint expats have when they come to the US is the flavor of the food. The US govt knows it lost in terms of flavor when it instituted laws and regulations that caused the mechanization of agriculture in the US, but feels it is a worthy trade-off. Personally, I'm not so sure and always go for an heirloom variety when it is available and when I can afford it.
post #5 of 20
Thread Starter 
It's rather an overstatement to say the gubmint caused the mechanization of agriculture. Monocultural factory farming sort of evolved, hand in hand with the industrial revolution, and the government protected it for what seemed good causes.

And still does, with the whole GMO thing, which is nothing more than agricultural imperialism.

What's not in doubt, however, is that the food distribution system in the U.S. is out of whack. Varieties are chosen for their ability to fit into that system. Flavor and nutrition are by-products, and if they sneak in it's by accident.

But who's to blame? The factory farms, who cater to the public whim? Or the public who demand "fresh" produce out of season; and are willing to sacrifice flavor to get it?

Even the widespread availability of so-called organic produce is somewhat misleading. The stuff in the supermarket, by and large, is not a product of the small, diverse organic farmer, but, rather, it comes from the organic divisions of the same factory farms that are giving us those round, red rocks they call tomatoes.

What gets me is the price of that stuff. Given the growing methods they use (which parallel, as much as possible, the methods used on conventional factory farms) there is no justification for the higher prices. They are charging them only because they can get away with it.

Same goes for heirlooms. Despite the myths, it doesn't cost any more to grow an heirloom than it does to grow a hybrid. But somehow or other they've created this concept that heirlooms cost more to produce, and, therefore, should carry a higher pricetag.

The sad part, of course, is that the small, diverse farmer; the very person who kept the concept "organic" alive, lo these many years, cannot afford the time or money it takes to get certified. Understandable, considering that the factory farms wrote the rules; and wrote them for their own benefit.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #6 of 20
Remember Operation Wetback? The tomato farmers said that the Operation would stop them from being able to harvest their tomatoes. The government said it didn't care and continued the Operation. Tomato farmers had to turn to mechanization to harvest their crops, which required moving to a harder tomato that could be picked by machine and then ripened by gassing. The government wrote at the time that it knew its policies would compromise taste, but that the compromise was worth it.

PS I have done significant research on this subject.
post #7 of 20
KYHeirloomer,

I believe I'm familiar with your work. You've written for Baker Creek haven't you?
post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 
Yes I have, inthe past. The Heirloom Gardener, Mother Earth News, Kentucky Gardener, OFA's Gardener's Companion are just some of the places I've written about heirlooms.

And, as managing director of the Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy, I edit their quarterly newsletter.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #9 of 20
KYHeirloomer,

There was a company that specialized in Heirloom Italian Vegetable Seeds. Do you know who they are?
Thanks
post #10 of 20
Thread Starter 
That would be Seeds From Italy, the American distributor of Franchi seeds. Here's the contact info:

Seeds from Italy, PO Box 149, Winchester, MA 01890 Email: seeds@growitalian.com or bmckay@growitalian.com TEL: 781 721 5904 FAX: 612 435 4020
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #11 of 20
Great to have you branch out from the garden forums as an active member here KYHeirloomer!

;)
post #12 of 20
Gotta disagree a bit with these statements. In my experience, it is harder to grow the heirlooms, especially tomatoes. I've been planting the heirloom tomatoes for the past few years and have had all kinds of problems with molds, fungus, mildew and bugs that only marginally affected the hybrids I used to grow in the same garden plot. The difficulty, however, is not enough to make me quit trying. These tasty 'maters are the best! eventhough they need a bit more coddling.

My favorite varieties are Balck Krims, Brandywines and Green Zebras.

www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
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www.foodandphoto.com

Liquored up and laquered down,
She's got the biggest hair in town!

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post #13 of 20
Thread Starter 
I won't argue the point, Foto. Some have more trouble than others.

I won't put a hybrid in the ground, and have never run into particular pest or disease problems not faced by my hybrid-growing friends. Indeed, because I use organic methods, I often have fewer problems because my soil and gardens are in balance.

Are you bottom watering? From what you said, sounds like a lot of your problems are being caused by soil splash-back onto the foliage. See if drip irrigation doesn't help.

Keep in mind, however, that home gardening is not the same as commercial production, which is what we were discussing. Most commercial heirlooms are not, unfortunately, grown using organic methods. So any problems are fought with the same chemicals used for growing hybrids, the land is abused the same way, and the same equipment is used for planting, culturing, and harvesting.

My point is, if we are using the same fertilizers, same insecticides, same herbicides; have the same investment in equipment; and are saving our own seed to boot (thus lowering production costs), then how do we justify charging higher prices? Well we charge higher prices for the same reason a dog licks his butt---because we can.

Just for the record, Green Zebra is not an heirloom. It's a modern open pollinated variety, introduced by breeder Tom Wagner. It's a great tomato, though, and will surely become an heirloom once it has a little more time in grade.

Personally, I feel Black Krim to be the most over-rated tomato grown. It was catapulted into fame when Martha touted it one year. There are many other better tasting blacks. You might try Paul Robson or Black From Tula, for instance. Noire de Crimee, which translates as black krim, is actually a different variety which most authorities rank higher. Southern Nights is probably the best of the blacks, but it has two problems. First, it's a determinate variety, and not suitable for most home gardeners. Second, seed is extremely difficult to come by.

I would also recommend that you give Cherokee Purple a try. On all counts except beauty it's the best tomato you can grow. Unfortunatley, it's ugly as home-made sin.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #14 of 20
Kyheirloom
Could you elaberate on drip irrigation, im intending to build my own veg patch and all the help would be wecome.
I entend to grow Organic veg and the more the merrier.
post #15 of 20
Thread Starter 
Munchers, we could write a book about drip irrigation.

To cover the highlights, drip irrigation is the generic name for a series of watering tools that deliver moisture (and sometimes fertilizer) right to where the plants are.

Actuall parts range from the black soaker hoses you can buy almost anywhere, to simple drip tapes with built-in emmiters, to very sophisticated, electronically controlled tubes, timers, and emmiters.

There are several benefits to drip irrigation. First, and foremost, is water conservation. Instead of blanketing the garden with water, as with a traditional hose or sprinkler, you deliver it right to the plant. Along with that is quantitiy. You can monitor exactly how much each plant (or zone, if you get that sophisicated) receives.

You can actually run your drip system under your mulch, and double dip that way.

All in all, you conserve water both by the amount used, and the fact you have minimized losses due to evaporation.

Next is health of the plants. It's taken as a given the the worst thing you can do is water from overhead (yeah, yeah, I know that's how God does it). This wets the foliage, which can lead to all sorts of fungal and other diseases. Hosing at the base of the plant can cause soil splashback, which, again, can lead to diseases.

If you google "drip irrigation" you'll get all sorts of info, ranging from suppliers to detailed instructions for setting up a system.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #16 of 20
munchers,

What is your budget for irrigation and how large is your vegetable garden?
What part of the country are you in?
What are you planning on growing?
post #17 of 20
thanks, would polystyrene work as well?? Im getting really excited about the whole process of producing my own veg, herbs. At the moment im growing in the communal garden Raspberries, Rhubarb, and a multiple of herbs. The reason for the box is to stop the gardener from cutting the heads off ,of my newly growing veg, like he did last year.My mum gave me some Courgette plants and cabbage and with in one morning, all where gone. So hence the veg Boxes. Any ideas for me?? As im a new comer to the veg as such im a little nervious.
Ill give you a laugh, my friends mum has a lovely green house and she was growing phillasis, and she was telling everyone . Wanting to show them how good she was, she promsised them some but her plans didnt work out and they never grew properly so she went and bought some in the shops and kept stump!!He! HE! They LOVED them.If only they knew.
So im not saying much to other about my new hobby.Except you now.
post #18 of 20
Thread Starter 
Munchers, you've got me confused.

Polystyrene what?

What box?

It sounds like I came into the middle of a conversation from a different thread. :confused:
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #19 of 20
word from small farmers that are raising heirlooms is that the plants have a lower yeild than conventional.

as to certifying organic, the State of Mo had a cutting edge program that was set up for small diversified farmers, cost $100 and apparently the paperwork was doable. It's gone by the wayside, but for a time we had something very good.

My favorite heirlooms are German it can be 3#+ yellow with pink veins...
or brandywines....sungold are great cherry tomatoes....sweettttt.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #20 of 20
Thread Starter 
"word from small [COLOR=#006666! important][FONT=verdana, geneva, lucida, 'lucida grande', arial, helvetica, sans-serif][COLOR=#006666! important][FONT=verdana, geneva, lucida, 'lucida grande', arial, helvetica, sans-serif]farmers[/FONT][/FONT][/COLOR][/COLOR] that are raising heirlooms is that the plants have a lower yeild than conventional."

I keep hearing that second & third hand. But I don't know any market farmers actually growing heirlooms who have experienced significantly lower yields.

Typical is when I give presentations at the Kentucky Vegetable Grower's Assn. That question always comes up, almost always predicated with "I hear that...." or "I understand that...." When I press them for info about who they heard it from it is never from somebody actually growing them. They heard it at the morning coffee klatch; or from the extension agent (you know, the guys who get paid to promote hybrids, chemicals, and even gmos) says he read about it somewhere, etc.

But even if it were true, heirlooms command higher prices at market (yeah, yeah, I know they shouldn't, but the reality is they do), which would more than make up for any fall-off in production.

Example #1: During the summer glut, at farmer's markets, when hybrid tomatoes are getting a buck and a quarter if the farmer is lucky, heirlooms still command $2.50-$3.00. Example #2: I know of a canner looking to start a line that's completely heirlooms. He's currently offering growers $3.50/lb, delivered, on contract.

>as to certifying organic, the State of Mo had a cutting edge program<

At one time there were many states that had much stronger organic certification requirements than the federal standards. Among the top were Orgegon--Oregon Tilth had the toughest certification standards in the country---and California. Missouri's was pretty good; about the equal of Maine's. Kentucky, sadly, had the worst.

In each case, it cost the grower less money, there was less paperwork, and the certification was more meaningful, but they were all superceded by the federal requirements.

Just another case of "I'm from the Federal government, I'm here to help you." :eek:

The federal certification standards were, for all intents and purposes, written by the factory mega-farms. Their goal was 1. to make things as easy and inexpensive for themselves as possible, while, 2. driving out the small, diverse farmer. In other words, Monsanto wins and the real organic farmers lose.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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