I thought I would share a few of the more interesting items that are offered and some selections for the garden at the Pry House.
Some garden vegetables may seem very straight-forward. A carrot is a carrot, a potato is a potato, and a cucumber is a cucumber. That may not always be the case! We eat many of the same kinds of fruits and vegetables today that Americans enjoyed 150 years ago, but the varieties we are most familiar with today often did not exist during the Civil War. Likewise, some varieties of produce which were very popular in earlier centuries are extinct or very rare today. Sometimes the differences are subtle and we might hardly notice them, but often the difference between an 1860s apple and the Red Delicious you can find at the supermarket are striking.
As an example, the Baker Creek catalog offers over two dozen varieties of true cucumbers, but none of them appear to be correct for a an American Garden in the 1860s. Instead, I may plant burr gherkins, also known as maroon cucumbers. They are not true cucumbers, but are a close relative, also originating in Africa and coming west with enslaved peoples. Though rarely seen today, they have been in the United States for over 200 years and were once a very popular food. Reviews indicated that it heavily producing plant. They are small, spiky, and pretty wild-looking!
Sometimes the heirloom seed catalog offers a wide spectrum of varieties more strange and exotic-looking than anything you will find in the grocery store or the garden store's seed rack. It can be a lot of fun to look at dozens of fruits and vegetables that are so different from what we are probably used to seeing on our own tables. Sadly, many of these fun varieties are not period to the 1860s or are not local to the United States in that time period.
This year's catalog offers 88 varieties of melon, not counting watermelons. Some are fairly wild-looking and I would love to grow them, but they just don't meet the standards of this garden.
Tiger Melon from Ukraine
Rich Sweetness 132 Melon from Russia
Ushiro Uri from Japan
Thankfully not all of the interesting and different-looking melons are beyond my reach. I will likely grow this variety of melon which Baker Creek labels as "Ananas D'Amerique A Chair Verte." It is of French origin, but has been grown in the United States for over 200 years. According to their catalog, it was grown by Thomas Jefferson and has been available commercially in America since 1824. I have never been a fan of melon, but others like it and this will be fun to try growing.
Ananas D'Amerique A Chair Verte Melon
This year I have decided to plant cowpeas in the garden. You might be more familiar with black-eyed peas, a more common variety of cowpea today. The seed catalog offers a number of varieties purported to date from the 1860s and beyond, but I will likely go with the simple Clay Cowpea.
Several seed companies correctly indicate that this was a common staple of Civil War armies, especially in the Confederacy. I have never grown anything like these before, so I am looking forward to learning how to plant, tend, and harvest these little beans. I am very curious to see how they might taste compared with more familiar black-eyed peas.
More on seed selections next week!!!
Several photos taken from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at rareseeds.com. Check them out!