As part of our efforts to collect detailed information on some of the less documented varieties in the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) seed collection, an Evaluation Program was launched in 2010 to gather descriptions necessary to promote these varieties and get them back into circulation.
Part of the evaluation process (and arguably the most fun) involves Tasting Trials. Aside from SSE Members who participate in the Member Grower Evaluation Network (M-GEN), the Evaluation Program has not requested public participation in the Taste Trials up until this point. Sixty-five participants at the 2014 Conference and Campout gave us detailed rankings and notes about 4 snap beans, 5 carrots, 4 collards, and 11 kale.
The kale and collards were available both raw and cooked, and tasters ate the carrots and snap beans raw.
Among the 4 snap beans tasted, 3 received high marks ('Campbell Family Heirloom,' 'Mr. Claude Parker,' and 'Louisiana Purple Pod') while 'Swedish' lagged behind. 'Campbell' earned top marks by a very slight margin, and tasters consistently declared it sweet, crisp, and juicy. Tasters often found 'Louisiana Purple Pod' less sweet than 'Campbell,' but several appreciated its unique flavor, which tasters described as anything from "nutty" to "celery flavored" to "mushroomy" to "weird." 'Mr. Claude Parker' was often declared the driest of the four snap beans, though it received strong marks for flavor and edged 'Campbell' for most #1 rankings. Some commented on the beauty of the purple stripes on the 'Mr. Claude Parker' pods.
For carrots, 'Nantes Frubund,' 'Tino,' and 'Danro' received good scores, while 'Kampe' and 'Senko' were less well received. Some tasters commented that these carrots would be better cooked or after a frost. 'Nantes Frubund' received highest marks by a slight margin and was often described as crisp, crunchy, and sweet.
'North Carolina Yellow' was the highest rated collard and also highest rated variety in the tasting overall. 'Yellow' was often described as the sweetest and most tender of the four varieties. Yet 'Willis Collard Green' was top rated by many, and 'Ole Timey Blue' also had its fans. In 2012 M-GEN evaluations, 'Ole Timey Blue' received very high marks for flavor compared to other collards, yet finished third here, indicating a strong field. 'Walking Stick' received lower marks, perhaps reflecting a history of selection for form rather than taste.
Among the 11 kales tasted, 'Vitessa,' 'Russian,' and 'White Russian' were the top 3, with little separation among them. 'Vitessa' was described as 'packing a punch' of good flavor. 'Russian' consistently got called out for its tender texture, with taste comments ranging from delicious and sweet to mild or bland. 'White Russian' was viewed as "average" by some and as an absolute favorite by others. Those who favored it described its taste as "traditional," "sweet," "classic," and possessing unique flavor, with descriptions ranging from "like cauliflower" to "mustard greens" to "horseradish." The diversity of opinions makes us wonder if the flavor of 'White Russian' varies from plant to plant more than some others. Other kales receiving top votes include 'Ursa Red,' 'Delaway,' 'Blue Siberian,' 'Cottagers,' and 'Scarlet.' 'Cottagers' is perhaps England's oldest kale variety, and it earned some particularly passionate fans, whether they were aware of its antiquity or not. Yet among many tasters it got lost in the shuffle. By far the lowest rated kale was 'Krasnaha Kurcavaja Vysokaja.' It appears to be just as chewy as its name.
While a few tasters experienced kale fatigue (11 varieties!), overall it seemed like most folks had a good time, and many expressed appreciation for the experience. Some comments indicated a seasoned veteran palette ("this carrot is meant to be cooked") while others indicated they were attempting some crops, like collards, for the first time. Some participants chose to keep their score-sheets, the better for planning their 2015 garden!
Interested in obtaining some of these varieties? Many of them make their way into our member Seed Exchange, and a select few eventually find themselves in our catalog.
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.