Food is one of, if not the most, important ways people connect with one another – sharing tastes, smells, and ideas. Over time, the meaning of food and cooking is passed down from one person to the next, a way of passing the torch to future generations. You might be surprised to know, vegetables aren’t so different from us human beings!
‘Heirloom vegetables’ – a phrase coined all the way back in the 1940s by Professor William Hepler of New Hampshire – come from a long family tree of veggies and crops that share seeds and characteristics, resulting in a veritable rainbow of varieties.
When you eat a tomato from a supermarket, for instance, you’re often eating a hybrid variety – a meshing of characteristics in order to produce what has been decided as the most ‘desirable’ looking tomato. Not so with the heirloom vegetables, which are often grown in the ‘open pollination’ method, where seeds from the crop are re-used over and over, maintaining the weird and wonderful characteristics of that variety.
Michael Tammes from Oz Fresh Herbs grows all sorts; broccoli, kale, capsicums, carrots, cauliflower (that’s his purple cauli in the photo), and of course, beautiful tomatoes. He reckons flavour and colour are key to good heirlooms, but also the story behind them – “There’s lots of history in it too. I always say, every variety has a personality, so we’d better enjoy that before we’re living in a world where all the veggies look the same”.
‘Heirloom’ can be applied to seed varieties that have been in circulation for upwards of 50 years, passed down through several generations of family, or perhaps a mysterious variety with no known origin!
Here at Melbourne Farmers Markets, we adore heirloom vegetables in all their varieties, find your favourites at your local farmers’ market this weekend.
– By Nicholas Kennedy
Nicholas is a freelance writer and local farming enthusiast, currently volunteering for Melbourne Farmers Markets.