The Best Vegetables of the Year

One avid, experienced gardener offers his picks for the year's best vegetables.

| December 1998/January 1999

There are several reasons for calling a vegetable variety "best." Taste is probably the number one reason. Ironically, it is also the most subjective. If all of our taste buds were alike, would there be so many varieties of wine or soda or candy bars?

Selecting the "best vegetables" based on taste is more complex than a simple comparison. Does it taste best fresh from the garden, after being in the refrigerator for a week, boiled, baked, fried, after being frozen, or canned, or stored in the root cellar? If you are growing a 25-foot row of carrots, you are only interested in those that taste best fresh from the garden. If a 50-foot row is planned, you may be interested in how they taste after a week in the fridge. If a couple of hundred feet of row, you are contemplating storage, which can be in a root cellar, frozen, canned, or dried.

Most gardeners have favorites, and many of us will extol the virtues of those vegetables that have found their way into our hearts. Do we know what we are talking about? Not really. To be truly knowledgeable, we have to have compared our favorite with all others. That is mathematically difficult with most vegetables.

Garden produce has been bred for some qualities that gardeners generally are not interested in. Tomatoes have been bred to resist bruising or breaking when harvested by machine. They have even been bred square to fit nicely into four-packs. Beans have been bred to produce prolifically over a short period of time, which makes harvesting easier and faster. This is not a bad consideration for gardeners interested in canning or freezing beans, as long as flavor has not been sacrificed. The best time to freeze vegetables is fresh from the garden. Pick 'em, dump 'em in boiling water for a couple of minutes, dump 'em in ice water for a couple of minutes, package and freeze — from garden to freezer in a couple of hours, tops. But if the bean or pea harvest is spread out over several weeks, you may find no single harvest will be yielding enough for immediate freezing.

A gardener in a northern climate might be interested in varieties that are more hardy or have a shorter growing season. I'm not at all interested in some of the things they are trying to do with genetic engineering, though. In fact, it worries me a little. What do I think could happen? They are just plants, after all. They have roots. I don't think they will march upon us — turn on their creators — do I?

Look around you. If you are not already aware of a plant in your area that is not native to the area and is taking over a habitat, make yourself aware. I flew into Oregon one spring a couple of years ago and was amazed at the proliferation of a shrub with yellow flowers that could be seen clearly taking over large areas. In the South the most notorious is kudzu.

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