Garden Fever and the Seed Catalog Cure
The air feels warm today. My nostrils, usually dozy this time of year, are perky and sniff up morsels of earthy scents like mud, leaf mold and *big inhale* spring! Yes I know that spring is still two months away but my nose begs to differ. It always happens around now. Tight limbs start to yearn for long walks with the stroller sans-parka, fingernails begin to crave the feeling of caked-in dirt. My nose, as you can plainly see, starts to play tricks on me. What is a cabin-fevered prairie-girl to do? Read seed catalogs, of course! If you’ve ever eaten vegetables straight out of the garden then you’ll know just how delicious, flavorful, fresh, crunchy, sweet, divine, exquisite, celestial, ethereal they really are. The descriptions of heirloom vegetables from seed catalogs are the next best thing to actually sinking your teeth into some home-grown earthy delight.
For instance, take this description of broccoli:
“Romanesco: An old Italian heirloom with apple green spiraling heads and a delicious flavor.” Ooooh, I’ve got shivers down my spine. ‘old Italian’? It sounds rustic enough to make my hands instantly callus and make-a me speak with an ak-cent! What a beautiful picture, you could get lost staring into those ever spiraling bunches of broccoli.
Living in North America means that I have a natural obligation as deep as the lands that originally forged these delicious vegetables, to grow squash. Here’s one description that makes me drool!
“North Georgia Candy Roaster: An old Appalachian heirloom from Northern Georgia. One of the best squash available. The long pinkish fruit has a green starburst on the tip and can weigh 10 lbs.” A vegetable called ‘candy’? How delectable. I can just imagine sinking my teeth into it’s sweet pink middle after a long slow roast. Perhaps serving it with the Polish Jenn garlic that I planted last fall and speckling it with sweet, tangy heirloom cherry tomatoes.
The term ‘Heirloom’ applies to vegetables that come from old seeds. When I say old, what I mean is that these seed strains have been around for a long time. They have had time to diversify, toughen up in the face of disease and create many different and unique variations of common vegetables. Unfortunately, most of the fruits and vegetables you find at the supermarket come from a dismally small variety of crops. These vegetables and fruits are selected by industrial-scale growers because they produce high yields and can travel long distances without rotting (think of your January tomatoes from Mexico, still red and unblemished in the produce section). Sadly ease-of-transport comes at the cost of flavor and diversity. The antithesis of the Supermarket vegetables are the Heirlooms. Vegetables that exhibit a glorious spectrum of characteristics and flavor that you just don’t see at Super Wal-Mart or Safeway. They taste better, richer- more real. They may not travel as well but they make up for their shortcomings by tasting positively exquisite.
And so what vegetable catalog fantasy is complete without the regal tomato. Here is one description that makes me pine for August:
“Dix Doits de Naples: An Italian heirloom that produces huge quantities of medium size elongated fruit in clusters. The name means Ten Fingers of Naples and this tomato is a very old heirloom variety.Rare.”
It’s easy to forget just how much work it takes to grow happy healthy heirlooms but after all, it is still February. For now, I am content to just browse the online catalogs, skip over the inevitable hard work and fantasize about tasting the fruits of my labors. This nose knows how great it will be.