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Heirlooms: What Are They & What Are Some Of The Best Available?
Contributed by: Rj Johnson 
Local & Organic Curator; Peddler's Son Produce

I  love heirloom varieties of just about everything and it makes me smile that more and more people are getting on the heirloom "band-wagon", but as I was putting this little post together I was startled to learn that a lot of people have no idea what an heirloom vegetable is and most think it's just a tomato thing... Hmmm...

So here is my short definition:

Heirloom plant species are vegetables, flowers, and fruits grown from seeds that are passed down from generation to generation, are at least 50 years old and are open-pollinated which means they rely on natural pollination from insects or the wind. It also means we can save the seeds and plant again next season.

Over time, growers saved the seeds of their best plants, those being either the most vigorous, disease resistant, flavorful, or beautiful. You will also notice they generally have unique shapes, sizes, and colors. Totally different looking than the "must all look the same" commercial hybrids, bred to produce uniform-looking and tasting, high-yield crops at low cost. Most seeds from hybrids are sterile and cannot be passed down (and must be re-purchased every season).

Here are a few of my favorite Heirloom varieties:

Lemon Cucumber - Introduced in 1894, lemon cucumber is a tasty treat worth trying. The yellow skin with green stripes is smooth, not bitter. Flesh has an almost sweet crunch and makes for a wonderful pickle. 

Mortgage Lifter Tomato - From 1940s West Virginia, where auto mechanic Charlie Byles started breeding tomatoes in a bid to create a large-fruited plant he could sell. 'Mortgage Lifter' was the result. By selling tomato seedlings for $1, Charlie paid off his $6,000 mortgage. These large, indeterminate plants need hefty stakes to support the fruit-laden vines. Tomatoes are pink with a sweet taste, perfect for eating fresh from the vine.

Blue Hubbard Squash - A winter squash standard. The teardrop-shaped fruits typically weigh 15 to 40 pounds and keep well into winter. Flesh is golden and fine-grained (no strings). The sweet flavor enhances pies, baked goods and savory dishes like soup or chili. A sea captain delivered seeds for this squash to Massachusetts gardener, Elizabeth Hubbard in 1798. In 1842, she shared seeds with a local seedsman. 'Blue Hubbard' first appeared in seed catalogs in 1909.

Jimmy Nardello Sweet Pepper - A Southern Italian coastal town, Ruoti, gave rise to this sweet frying pepper when immigrant Giuseppe Nardiello brought seeds to America with him in 1887. His son Jimmy followed in his father's gardening footsteps and proliferated the seedline. 'Jimmy Nardello' peppers are red, up to 10 inches long and thin-walled, which makes them ideal for frying. They also taste great raw or pickled. Janna at Pinnacle Farms grows them every year and I think I eat as many as I sell!

Forellenschluss Lettuce - Beautiful, maroon-speckled romaine with a luxuriously delicate texture and flavor of a butterhead. is also known as 'Freckles' or 'Trout Back lettuce' (Forellenschluss means "speckled like a trout" in German). 'Trout Back' dates to 1660 in Holland; the seeds hit American shores in the 1790s.

Moon and Stars Watermelon - I first tasted these wonderful, dark green, yellow mottled melons at Blue Sky Organic Farms. This heirloom was introduced in 1924 and was believed to be extinct until a seedsaver shared seed in 19

Bull's Blood Beets - Amazing and versatile, prized for its deep red-purple leaves, which make a terrific spinach substitute and have become a  to in the micro-green arena. The roots are delicious when picked young (2 to 3 inches) and boast concentric pink rings inside. This heirloom was introduced in 1840 by a Dutch seedsman.

So, let's eat more Heirlooms:
  • Exceptional taste.
  • Likely to be more nutritious. 
  • Less Expensive.
  • They come with a story...I love food with a story.


Month of August


In Season:

*Items in BOLD will prove to usually be better values as they are in their peak harvest period.

Apples - Gala, CA
Endive, Belgian
Peas - Snow
Peas - Sugar Snap
Figs - Black Mission Peppers - Bell
Figs - Brown Turkey
Peppers - Bell, Gold
Beans - French
Figs - Calmyrna
Peppers - Bell, Red
Beans - Green
Peppers - Chili
Beans - Yellow Wax
Garlic - Elephant Peppers - padron/shishito
Berry - Blackberry
Grape Peppers - sweet
Berry - Blueberry
Grape - Champagne Pineapple
Berry - Raspberry
Horseradish Potatoes - Red
Berry - Strawberries
Potatoes -White
Kiwano (Horned Melon)
Broccoli Rabe
Kiwifruit - Imports
Kiwifruit - Zespri Gold Salanova
Lychee - Mexico, Florida Shallots
Cactus Leaves
Mangoes Spinach
Melon - Cantaloupe
Spinach - Baby
Melon - Honeydew
Melon -Watermelon Squash - Chayote (Merliton)
Celery Root (celeriac)
Melon - Watermelon - Yellow Flesh Stonefruit - Peaches, Donut
Mushroom - Black Trumpet Stonefruit - Apricots
Mushroom - Chanterelle Stonefruit - Cherries
Citrus - Limes
Mushroom - Lobster Stonefruit - Nectarines
Citrus - Oranges, Valencia
Mushroom - Maitake
Stonefruit - Peaches
Mushroom - Matsutake
Stonefruit - Plums
Mushroom - Trumpet Stonefruit - Pluots
Cucumber - English
Stonefruit - Prunes - Italian
Cucumber - Lemon
Papaya Tamarillo
Cucumber - Pickling
Papaya - Mexican Tomatoes - Cherry Heirloom
Dill Weed
PawPaws Tomatoes - Heirloom
Pears - Asian
Eggplant - Chinese
Pears - Bartlett
Eggplant - Japanese
Peas - English

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