The beauty of the Seed Savers collection is its diversity. It includes over 23,000 accessions from more than 100 crop types from all over the world. Over the last five years, the preservation department has evaluated 2,700 of these accessions. So, naturally, we like to think that we’re pretty familiar with the vegetables of the world and the ways in which they are grown, prepared, and eaten.
However, once in awhile we come across varieties that are so novel and extraordinary that even we are taken by surprise. Here are some of our favorite “outside of the box” varieties that we’ve encountered in the last few years.
There are radishes that are grown for their roots, and then there are radishes that are grown for their edible seed pods. Like all radishes, rat’s tail radishes produce edible immature seed pods. However, these radishes are earlier to flower, do not form root bulbs, and the pods are sweeter and more tender than other varieties. The pods can range in size and color, depending on the variety, but this particularly variety that we grew in 2013, ‘Rat’s Tail,’ has a profusion of solid purple pods that grow up to 2 feet long!
Just when you thought you’ve seen every size, shape, and color of tomato, think again! The ‘Reisetomate’ is truly extraordinary. It resembles a conglomeration of many small cherry tomatoes fused together into one large, convoluted tomato. Its shape is purposeful, having been selected for the traveler to easily break off one lobe at a time without the use of a knife. In fact, its name is German for “travel tomato.” Unfortunately its flavor is less appetizing, but perhaps a famished traveler would be grateful to have this tomato along.
Here is an unconventional melon! ‘Queen Anne's Pocket’ melon was not developed for its flavor, but rather for its beauty and fragrance. This colorful, striped, baseball-sized melon was once very popular in 18th century Europe for perfuming wardrobes and rooms. Legend has that it was used by the ladies of the court of the Queen of England (1702-1714) as a perfumed sachet. As an interesting anecdote, ‘Queen Anne’s Pocket’ melon is also known as ‘Plum Granny’, a corruption of its other name, vegetable pomegranate, by people of the Appalachian region. This variety also wins no awards for flavor.
Of the cornucopia of tomatoes, here is one you may never have encountered: a stuffing tomato. This type of tomato is truly unusual. The fruit are completely hollow and closely resemble a bell pepper. They have thick walls, thick skin, and very little gel in the hollow seed cavity. They hold their shape well during cooking because they have a much lower moisture content than most tomatoes. When cooking with them, make sure your filling is packed with flavor: the tomatoes themselves are decidedly bland! Try ‘Stuffing, Burgess’ tomato for your next kitchen experiment.
This watermelon is not for the parched throats of sultry summer days, but for holiday fruitcakes, cookies and puddings. Citron watermelons were bred for candying and pickling. Their firm, white flesh is flavorless, but lends itself well to preserving with sugar or honey. The melons store for up to six months. They have been popular in Europe since at least the 15th century, especially in Portugal and Spain. We have several in the collection including ‘Citron, Red Seeded’, ‘Citrouille d'Espagne a Confiture’, ‘Citron, Red Shine’, and ‘Citron, Wild’.
Question: When is your cucumber not a cucumber?
Answer: When it’s a melon!
Many gardeners look forward to the juicy flesh, wonderful aroma, and sweet flavor of melons during the heat of summer. But, certain melons look, taste, and feel more like cucumbers. In fact, a certain class of melon, the Lebanese or Armenian cucumber, is meant to be eaten when immature, like a cucumber (hence their names). At Seed Savers Exchange we have several melon varieties that are considered cucumber melons including ‘Lebanese Cucumber’ and the documented family heirloom ‘Cohlmia Family Lebanese Cucumber’. We also have ‘DJ’s Italian.’ The donor of ‘DJ’s Italian’, Peter Matey, said this in his donation letter: “Vines are very long with a profusion of fruit – best picked when 3-4 inches in size. They look a lot like little watermelons with fine “peach-fuzz” that washes off easily.” We are growing ‘Cohlmia Family Lebanese Cucumber’ and ‘DJ’s Italian’ to replenish our seed stock in 2016, but ‘Lebanese Cucumber’ is available.
Edible Seeded Squash
Many people are familiar with roasting pumpkin seeds, but one entire species of squash are actually prized for their seeds. Many varieties of Cucurbita argyrosperma, often called cushaw or Japanese pie pumpkin, have delicious seeds that can be enjoyed both raw and roasted (as well as being used for oil). The seeds of these varieties are large, plump, moist, and offer a wonderful nutty taste. We recommend these varieties from the Seed Savers Collection: ‘Cushaw, Hopi’ (a staff favorite), ‘Black Sweet Potato’, and ‘Apache Giant’. Available in the Seed Savers catalog is ‘Silver Edged’.
The earthy, sweet flavor of beets is a treat (if you like beets). However, some beets were bred to have a small root and an abundance of leaves. While leaf beets are similar to Swiss chard, they do not have the long stems like Swiss chard. ‘MacGregor's Favorite’ is an old Scottish leaf beet. The donor, Gordon Brown, said this: “‘MacGregor's Favorite Heirloom’, an old Scottish beet grown for its tops. Also known as the Dracena beet it has narrow, spear shaped leaves that are a deep, metallic purple. Fantastic as an ornamental and good to add summer color to a salad as it will not bolt in hot weather. The small tapered roots are slow to form".