Not many of the dollars spent by colleges of agriculture and the USDA are used to develop vegetables and fruits with maximum nutrition and flavor. Today's consumer—either from indoctrination or lack of choice—generally buys produce almost entirely on the basis of size and color.
Most developmental work, therefore, is concentrated on improving only the shipping quality, size, and appearance of fruits and vegetables. It becomes a vicious circle. The grower pushes the big and bright and the customer, conditioned to accept such as "good," demands ever bigger and brighter. The few who complain about lack of flavor and nutrition are told that only the big and bright will sell.
The picture is dark, but not entirely black. There are a few examples of limited search for taste and nutrition and they've produced some varieties of garden fare that you should know about before you start dreaming over those seed catalogs this year.
The University of New Hampshire, for instance, appears to be in the nutritional vanguard with its 'Double Rich' tomato. This tomato—which has twice the vitamin C content of ordinary tomato varieties—was bred at the university several years ago. 'Double Rich' still doesn't have the charisma of hybrids such as 'Big Boy,' however, and you may have to start yours from seed.
The University of New Hampshire is also responsible for an 'Eat-All' squash with high protein, edible seeds and is credited—I believe—with 'Sweetheart' beets, which are far more flavorful than the old standards.
Another notable nutritional advancement is Purdue University's 'Caro-Red' tomato, which has 10 times the vitamin A content of older varieties. It is a prolific bearer, staked or not, but the name 'Caro-Red' may prove confusing; the ripe fruit is medium to large and 'Caro-Red' both adds nutrition and takes salads beyond the usual dimension of red and green.
'Double Rich' and 'Caro-Red' are generally classified as medium term tomatoes, which means that about 75 to 85 days pass from the time the plants are set in your garden until you pick ripe fruit. If you can get sets of either variety, that is. If you plan to plant these for flavor and nutrition, you may have to start both from seed because commercial growers are not missionaries. They limit their investments in labor and capital to known sellers. Growing your own from the seeds of either open-pollinated variety is not difficult, however. Here's how:
Separate a few seeds (from a raw, not cooked, tomato!) into a pan or cup. Wash as much pulp from them as possible and spread the seeds on a paper towel or cloth for a day or two to dry. About 6 to 8 weeks before you want to set plants in your garden, drop these seeds onto a mixture of equal parts sand, peat moss and/or vermiculite and cover slightly. Use dirt only if you bake it for an hour at 250 degrees Fahrenheit because dirt sometimes contains spores that kill sprouted seeds. Use small flower pots and other containers that will fit on the inside sill of a window that faces south for your sprouting beds. Water moderately and, with average home temperatures, you'll have your supply of tomato plants free.
Until four or five years ago, serving sweet corn at our house was not only a matter of production, but of timing, too. My wife placed a pan of water on the range burner while I strolled out to the patch of sweet corn. When the water boiled she rang the old farm bell near the rear door and I began to pull and husk ears as fast as possible. Clutching the freshly peeled ears, I then galloped to the kitchen and dropped them into the boiling water. Like all real roasting ear devotees, we believed that flavor and sweetness diminished by the moment and we were determined to salvage the most of both.
A new variety of sweet corn, 'Illini-Chief,' put an end to my mad dashes several years ago, however. 'Illini-Chief' is several times more expensive than any other hybrid corn—and worth it. Twice as sweet when you pick it, the sugar content of this variety doubles again during the following 48 hours.
'Illini-Chief' is a mid-term corn and takes about 80 days to mature but, again, it's worth waiting for. In our area, where the first frost of the season arrives between mid-September and mid-October, I make my final planting so late that the last batch is often frosted out. But those years when old Jack F. is late, the last roasting ears taste best of all. Try it and see if you don't agree. Many seed dealers stock this wonderful product of the Illinois Seed Foundation.
If you wanted a spaghetti dinner and the menu listed a 1-cup serving of "Spaghetti A" with 155 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 11 mg of calcium, zero vitamin A, zero vitamin C and a nominal assortment of other nutrients versus a cup of "Spaghetti S" with 95 calories, 23 grams of carbohydrates, 49 mg of calcium, 12,690 International Units of vitamin A, 14 mg of vitamin C and assorted nutrients equal to the first option, which would you order? These figures are from the 1959 U.S. Department of Agriculture Year Book titled FOOD. "Spaghetti A" is the real extruded Italian product. "Spaghetti B" is the fantastic spaghetti squash.
This squash is easy to grow and should make a great addition to your garden. Its vines spread moderately and its fruit is comparable to a small watermelon in size.
Preparation is easy. Boil or bake the squash whole and cut it into halves or quarters. Scrape seeds from the cavity and scratch at the meat with a kitchen fork. You'll be amazed to find that it shreds into uniform strands of "spaghetti" with a rich butter yellow tint that is most appetizing. Served with your favorite spaghetti sauce or with meat balls, this is an entree beyond compare, hardly distinguishable from the machine-extruded product. Stored in a dry place, spaghetti squash will last through the spring following harvest.
You can save spaghetti squash seeds from the uncooked fruit. Clean and dry as instructed for the tomato seeds. Plant by making an indentation about the size of a soup bowl with one stroke of a hoe in prepared ground. Drop four to six seeds into the pit, cover, step on it, take one full stride down the row and make another hole. Space the rows three feet apart and you will have hills of plants approximately three feet by three feet.
There is a school of thought (which seems logical to me) that when you have need for pollination it is better to plant in blocks than in long rows. In this instance, a small planting of spaghetti squash may bear more abundantly if you arrange, say, nine hills in three rows of three.
Strawberries are one of the all-time favorite garden plants for both people who rent and people who own property. They are sturdy, easily moved, multiply rapidly via runners (which means—with nominal care—a strawberry bed is forever renewed) and, with little added effort, extra plants may be sold to recover the original investment. Strawberries are mouthwatering to eat too ... sometimes.
When you dream of strawberries in the middle of winter, every serving from last spring was delicious. But were they? How many times did you look at an attractive dish of berries and—after tasting—wonder how berries so beautiful could be so ordinary? This is not always true nor need be. There are strawberries and then there are strawberries.
At one of the annual Small Fruits Day exhibitions given by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at Wooster, Dr. Hill—who heads the small fruits department—extolled the several commercial advantages of a new large strawberry developed in New Jersey and another berry not yet released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They were compared in size, shipping quality and other attributes with the popular Robinson.
The new berries have many things going for them, but when I asked Dr. Hill how these huge varieties compared in flavor to the 'Fairfax' he paused only a moment and replied that, in his opinion, there was no comparison between the flavor of the 'Fairfax' and that of any other strawberry. The 'Fairfax' is vastly superior. Dr. Hill added that the general public preferred to buy big berries and bright berries. The 'Fairfax' is neither big nor bright ... only the best-tasting. Therefore, if you want the incomparable deliciousness of 'Fairfax' strawberries, you'll probably have to plant them yourself.
Though I have not tasted all varieties of peaches, I am firmly convinced that 'Champion' and 'Belle of Georgia' lead the flavor parade. Both are white. The 'Belle of Georgia' is generally classified as semi-free stone, while the 'Champion' is a free stone peach. By the way, when you eat a 'Champion' peach fresh from the tree, wear a bathing suit because the honey-sweet juice will squirt and run in all directions.
If you're in a big hurry for peaches, plant dwarf trees. The rule is: If you have the choice of a $5.00 tree and a 50-cent hole or a 50-cent tree and a $5.00 hole ... plant the 50-cent tree in the $5.00 hole.
Try these recommended varieties in your garden, and let us know how you like them!
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