Why Do We Love Heirlooms?

 For That Incredible Flavor

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Why do I love heirlooms? It’s for that incredible flavor that can only be found in heirloom vegetables. I was a picky eater as a kid, and that continued as I grew up. I didn’t like that many vegetables. But I learned that it was the vegetable variety and not the vegetable that was the problem.

I first learned about heirlooms at a talk given by an Amish farmer. He said that his friend had a brix meter. That’s a meter that measures sugar content. He said that the higher the sugar content, the higher the nutrients and the better the flavor. He also said that they grew heirlooms next to hybrids, and the heirlooms always had a higher brix content. More sugar, more nutrients, more flavor.

So I started growing heirlooms, and I decided to grow everything. It didn’t matter if I didn’t like it, I was going to grow it. And I found out that I loved everything! Eggplant and zucchini, tomatoes and peppers, swiss chard and beets. Unusual or normal, they were all wonderful!

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What is an Heirloom?

There is a lot of confusion about what makes a vegetable an heirloom. The first thing a vegetable must be is open pollinated. That means that if it is bred to itself, the resulting seeds are the same vegetable variety. 

 The second thing that is necessary for a vegetable to be an heirloom is that it is old. There’s a lot of arguments about how old is old enough. 

We define an heirloom as a vegetable that is 50 or more years old. Why? Because we want the vegetable to have been around a while to prove itself. You know that someone wanted that vegetable around for over 50 years, and that means a lot.The other possibility is a hybrid. That happens when you breed two different vegetable varieties together. The resulting vegetable has a lot of the traits of both parents. But if you breed a hybrid to a hybrid, the resulting seed will be a weird combination of the grandparents. Some will be good, others bad, and you don’t know what you’ll get. Sometimes the seeds are even sterile and don’t produce any fruit.

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Heirlooms are Old, at least 50 years old.  Through the years they’ve seen a lot of things.  They’ve seen weather extremes, diseases and pests.  They’ve had the time to incorporate some resistance to those diseases and hardiness to deal with weather extremes.  Each vegetable has been saved by people who loved that vegetable.  Loved by people like you and me.  Mostly loved for their amazing flavor, each vegetable was selected for a reason.  Some for growing in cool climates or hot climates, or others for the earliest vegetable or the biggest vegetable, just to name a few.  But you know that each heirloom vegetable is special.   

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These are the vegetables your grandparents grew. They were cherished and passed down from generation to generation. Some were hand carried to the United States from all over the world to start gardens here. These were prized possessions and family heirlooms.

These are the vegetables that have the flavor you remember vegetables used to have. The amazing flavor that you can share with your children. You can share with them your love of gardening and great food, the same way your parents and grandparents did with you.

These are the vegetables that you will share with your children and they will pass on to their children.