MOTHER readers share their favorite crop varieties.
Great taste is one of the biggest reasons to grow your own garden, yet many of the best-tasting varieties are becoming hard to find because our current food system often values shelf life and shipping qualities more than taste and tenderness. MOTHER'S Cream-of-the-Crops series of readers favorite crop varieties presents outstanding varieties recommended by our readers.
"Amish Paste" Tomato Variety
"Amish Paste" is an heirloom tomato from the Amish community in Wisconsin. It's an abundant producer of blocky, pointed, deep-red fruits, often described as "acorn-shaped," "ox heart" or "teardrop." The tomatoes are thick-fleshed, with relatively few seeds.
Often listed as an 8-ounce tomato, they actually are of variable size but have unmistakably outstanding flavor. This variety won first place in a tasting of more than two dozen varieties in this country, and second place in a similar tasting in Australia.
In addition to a rich, full-bodied summer-tomato flavor, "Amish Paste" is an all around tomato, fleshy enough to be used as a paste tomato, tender enough for a salad slicer, yet juicy enough for nice, thick tomato juice. I've tried dozens of tomatoes and rate this as one of the best canning tomatoes available.
Seed is available from numerous sources, including the Seed Savers Exchange [www.seedsavers.org].
— David Cavagnaro
"Trail of Tears" Pole Bean Variety
"Trail of Tears" is the epitome of a versatile bean. Usually considered a fresh shelling or dry bean, young pods also can be eaten as snap beans, sliced and added to salads, or steamed whole and added to any meat or poultry dish. When dried, they have a smoky taste that turns even a so-so pork-and-bean dish into a gourmet tastefest.
"Trail of Tears," sometimes called "Cherokee Trail of Tears" or "Cherokee Black," is a very old variety, reportedly carried by the Cherokee Indians during their forced removal in 1838 and 1839 from Georgia to Oklahoma.
The rampant vines produce numerous pods that turn purple as they mature. The beans themselves are purple in the fresh-shelling stage but mature to midnight black. Vines should be well supported on poles or trellises, or the weight of the crop can cause them to fall.
Seed is available from Horus Botanicals; Salem, AR. Catalog, $3.
— John Yeoman
Beds, United Kingdom
Packman Broccoli Variety
"Packman" broccoli has a sweet, earthy taste. A reliable performer, it is early maturing with large, sage-green central heads of uniform size.
To harvest, cut the main head at a 45-degree angle before the buds open. Harvestable side shoots will form soon after the central head is cut. The plants are relatively tall, growing to 27 inches.
Like other broccoli, "Packman" should be started indoors five to six weeks before your safe plant-out date (March or April in most parts of the country), or it can be direct-sown in some areas such as the Pacific Northwest. It is cold hardy but requires early plantings because it will not tolerate high summer heat. Floating row covers help deter cabbage worms and loopers.
"'Packman" preserves well, with stalks remaining firm, and even after being frozen, it tastes as if it just came out of the garden.
Seed is available from Territorial Seed Co. [www.territorialseed.com].
— Sheila Wallin
Clemson Spineless Okra Variety
"Clemson Spineless" is a tender, earthy, full-bodied okra. It tastes great and cooks quickly while retaining a firm texture. It's especially good in gumbo, fried or pickled.
A hearty producer, "Clemson Spineless" is easy to grow either by direct sowing after all danger of frost is past, or by pre-starting and transplanting. The plants are vigorous and tall, growing up to 5 feet, and produce prolifically. Pods are uniformly straight, deep-green, ribbed and spineless. They'll grow to 9 inches, but should be harvested at 3 to 3 1/2 inches for best flavor.
A longtime favorite, particularly in the Cotton Belt, "Clemson Spineless" was released in 1938 and named an All-America Selection in 1939. Since then, it has become the most-popular okra grown, both commercially and in home gardens. It is widely available. Because the seed is open-pollinated, it can be saved.
— Helen Murray