By Horseshoe Griffin (Horseshoe) February 20, 2013
The world of hand-me-down seeds, also known as heirlooms.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on March 4, 2007. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Howdy, Folks! And welcome! Ya’ll come on up the steps, pick your sittin’ spot and share this front porch with me! My name is Horseshoe, but you can call me Shoe. (Yeah, I know, I know, what mother would name her child “Horseshoe”? Welp, perhaps that answer is for another time, eh?)
As for right now, I have something special I’d like to share with you so please feel free to move in a little closer; you just might want to hang on to every word. My goal is to give you some great information on something that has gone on for many generations. My hope is that by sharing the following information you, too, will share it with others as well as share the, the,…well, we’ll get on to that next part in a minute.
Being new to vegetable gardening can be exciting, daunting, puzzling, and even frustrating at times. However, more often than not, it will be extremely fulfilling in quite a few areas. One of those areas might be the enjoyment of growing particular strains and varieties of vegetables that were handed down from family to family for generations. The enjoyment will come in the form of growing and eating a food that was grown and loved by others many years ago and also knowing that YOU might be involved in helping to keep that vegetable, fruit, or flower available to others for many more generations to come.
When I first started growing and collecting heirloom vegetables we referred to them as “family seeds” or “pass-alongs.” Nowadays the term “heirloom” seems to be the word most commonly agreed upon.
You might be wondering what varieties of heirloom vegetables you can choose from. Well, neighbor, trust me because in the world of heirlooms there is no need to fear being on short supply with choices. With names ranging from 'Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter' (one of my most popular tomatoes with customers at the farmers’ markets) to 'Abraham Lincoln', 'Poppy’s Plum' or 'Granny Cantrell’s German' you’ll soon find that the stories behind them will provide you with good conversation to go along with the delicious food in front of you. However, this article is not necessarily about tomatoes so I see the need to throw in a few other names.
'Aconcagua'? (What the heck is that?) Trombocino? (Is that some heirloom musical instrument?) 'Chinese Giant'? (This is beginning to sound a bit scary, eh?) Welp, take your shoes off, relax, sit back and let me tell ya something.
For years one of my most favored heirloom tomatoes I’ve grown and offered at the farmers’ markets has been known by the unusual name of 'Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter' (RCML). Although there are several tomato varieties with the “mortgage lifter” name attached to them I’ve only grown Radiator Charlie’s over the years, so far anyway! The origin of RCML dates back to around the 1940’s when Charlie Byles of Logan, West Virginia, a radiator/auto mechanic, crossed four varieties of tomatoes and came up with a tomato that was so well-liked people came from miles around to buy plants for $1.00 each. In six years he made enough money selling the plants he was able to pay off his mortgage, hence the name! The tomato is pinkish-red, fairly low acid content, and a great slicer, often weighing around a pound. (See Note 1 below for picture/information.)
Another favorite tomato, 'Abraham Lincoln', dates back a bit further to 1923. An excellent slicer with wonderful disease tolerance. I hope to have it growing in my garden for as many years as I have taste buds (or have friends who do!). The meat to juice ratio is perfect! Slicing into it your eyes will witness a meaty fruit with just enough juice to transport its flavor to your tongue. From that point on you’ll discover a taste that is slightly acidic yet complemented with just enough sugar so as to not offend those of us with sensitive stomachs! An exceptional delight in the garden as well as on your plate! A friend of mine insists this tomato is “a little bit of heaven on a hot day”! By the way, “Abe” (like RCML mentioned above) produces fruit all summer long!
If you’re going to grow tomatoes in your garden you might as well grow some peppers also! The first that comes to mind is 'Aconcagua', named after the mountain range in South America. This sweet pepper is of the elongated variety growing approximately 11 inches long and 2-3 inches wide! It’s fantastic for eating fresh in salads or for grilling (I recommend an olive oil and garlic baste!) as well as for stuffing! Yummy!
Should you prefer a more blocky-shaped pepper then please give 'Chinese Giant' a try. Dating back to 1900 these peppers are huge, thick-walled, and so tasty I eat them like apples! Their size is 6 inches long by 4 and a half inches across. You’re gonna love ‘em!
Hmmm, and the afore-mentioned “Trombocino”? I can easily describe it in one word, “Zowie!!” but I reckon I better be a bit more descriptive, eh?
Trombocino (also known as Tromboncino and Rampicante) is a delicious and fun to grow Italian heirloom! This squash/gourd (considered a gourd in some countries but in the USA more often referred to as a squash) can grow sprawling on the ground or trained onto a trellis. The vines can get very long and it needs a bit of room to grow. When left to sprawl the squash grows in a circular fashion; if trellised they will grow straighter and can easily resemble a baseball bat! A beautiful plant that produces a vegetable up to 3 feet or more in length. When picked at the 10-inch stage it can be eaten raw as is (or dipped into ranch dressing), in salads, or lightly steamed. Picked when larger I prefer to cut them up and boil (with onions and tomatoes), or steam, saute’ or grill them. (They’re great added to veggie-ka-bobs!) It can also be baked. I’ve harvested the end-of-season squash and stored them until February and they were still delicious!
The picture below (left side) shows a ten-inch trombocino ready to eat! On the right, one that is approximately 24 inches, still tender and delicious!
And now, Folks, what was I referring to in the second paragraph regarding sharing? The most wonderful thing about growing heirlooms is that you can not only share your harvest but yet also save and share the seeds. This will allow you to have an ongoing “seed larder” for seasons to come. Some of your saved seeds can be passed on to friends and families like the many generations before us have done. By doing so you’ll play an integral role in the preservation of varieties of vegetables that could’ve easily been lost and unavailable to future generations.
And remember, this porch has no door so ya’ll come on back! See ya soon!
Note 1: More information, pictures, and seed sources for all plants mentioned in this article are listed at http://davesgarden.com/pf
Note2: Open-pollinated heirloom seeds will come back “true” to type. This means the seed will produce the same fruit as from the previous year, barring no cross-pollination. Hybrid seed, which is what many of todays vegetable seeds are, will not come back true to type and are often sterile. Saving seed from hybrids is not recommended.)
About Horseshoe Griffin
"Horseshoe lives on MoonDance Farm, located on the outskirts of Efland, NC. Completely surrounded by life in the plant kingdom he’s also ruled by the menagerie of chickens, two dogs, a 25 year old gander named Alice, and his favorite earthworm named Wiggly-Giggly who is always so happy he seems to smile at both ends!"