Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste
Heirloom Seed Savers in Appalachia
By: Bill Best
Most people never consider how heirloom fruits and vegetables actually make it to the farmer's markets and how seeds end up being offered commercially. The journey that each seed makes starts with someone who cares enough to grow and preserve it over decades, ensuring that the bean, tomato, corn or pumpkin will be around for future generations. It then takes someone like Bill Best to make it his life's work to collect them and make them available to us.
Bill Best is well-known in seed saving circles for his dedication to Appalachian food ways. This once impoverished and isolated area contains a treasure cache of seeds and fruits. Hill people are independent, self-reliant and like tradition. This makes the area a perfect seed saving region.
This book is a treasury of stories and accounts about the original seed savers. Stories of beans being handed down for generations and caches of seeds tucked away in freezers for years; along with colorful biographies make this an interesting read for any heirloom lover.
It isn't a how-to guide as much as an historical account of traditions and descriptions of the different types of beans, tomatoes, pumpkins and vegetables. Bill describes half-runners, cornfield, crease back and greasy beans, along with many others for those who aren't familiar with the various types. Tomatoes have a section along with grafting fruit trees and even the candy roaster pumpkin gets a nod.
Well-known seeds savers have each contributed a small bio, describing their specialties and how they became interested in preserving the past. I was also quite surprised to see my own name mentioned as the source for an heirloom cowpea!
If you're interested in history and enjoy reading first-person accounts, this is a wonderful treasure. Bill has taken the legacy of these wonderful seed-savers one step further than the seeds. He's collected the stories and biographies into this great little book to preserve the ‘how and why' behind some of our beloved seeds and plants. In the past, oral tradition was good enough for the family of ‘Aunt Bessie' when they saved her seeds, but with the growing interest in heirlooms, getting it down in print makes sure that gardeners world-wide have access to the record.
Appalachian seed savers have played a crucial part in what has become a national movement for alternatives to big agribusiness. Their flavorful and diverse fruits and vegetables outshine the bland, tasteless offerings of the corporate food culture and are cherished and sought after by thousands. Bill has collected their stories and like his seeds, saved them for future generations to enjoy.