What Do You Need to Know About Heirloom Vegetables?

Heirloom vegetables are a popular option for home gardeners today. “Heirloom” marked on a seed packet is probably second only to “Organic,” in terms of popularity. But have you ever wondered what it really means?

Simply put, an heirloom variety is an old-fashioned version of a vegetable or other plant that you’ve always known and loved. Heirloom vegetables are the plants your grandparents and great-grandparents would have grown in their gardens. They existed before biotech companies were patenting seeds, and before anyone had heard of GMOs. Heirloom vegetables link us back to a time before anyone thought to ask if something was grown organically – before we’d even heard the word “agribusiness.”

Many people grow heirloom vegetables because they prefer the old-fashioned taste over the flavour of today’s commercial varieties – most of which have been bred for traits such as uniformity, a single determinate harvest, and the ability to withstand the rigours of shipping over long distances. Two other traits that mark an heirloom variety are its history and the fact that it is “open pollinated.”

What makes a vegetable an heirloom? | #gardening #veggies
Heirloom vegetables link us back to a time when everything was organically grown
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(Image made from a photo by Dumbony/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Unique Vegetables – with a History!

An heirloom vegetable is a variety of plant – called a cultivar – that has a fairly long and stable history. Unlike a more recently developed hybrid, the heirloom has looked and tasted pretty much the same for decades, and sometimes even centuries. And unlike the vegetables you buy in the grocery store, an heirloom variety generally has one or two unique features that make it stand out from the rest. It might be a red, yellow, or purple carrot. It might be a tomato whose skin and flesh are green when completely ripe. Or perhaps it’s a red-skinned pumpkin or a purple-podded bean.

Most of the heirloom cultivars were grown before the 1950s, and many of them are even older than that. Cherokee Trail of Tears beans, for example, were grown as early as the 1830s. Green Hubbard squash was introduced to the American seed trade in the 1840s but had been grown in North America since 1739. The Montreal market melon was widely cultivated in the 1880s and was later saved from the brink of extinction in the late 1990s. Oftentimes, the stories behind these heirloom varieties are even more interesting than the plants themselves!

Heirloom Vegetables Are Open Pollinated

Besides a long history, the other thing that makes a plant an heirloom vegetable is open pollination. This term is a bit misleading, but what it means is that the seeds can be saved from one season to another. Plants grown from the seeds of this year’s crop will grow true to type.

That means if your tomato is a large, pink-fleshed beefsteak and you save its seeds, that’s what the seeds should produce again next year. Open pollinated crops will reliably produce the same results year after year, allowing the grower to save – and trade – seeds from one harvest to the next.

“Open Pollinated” is another designation you’ll sometimes encounter when buying seeds or plant starts. This label can be applied to any hybrid that has been stable long enough to reliably reproduce true to type, as well as to any cultivar that has an established history of successful seed saving.

The main difference between a variety marked “Open Pollinated” and one marked “Heirloom” is age. Heirloom vegetables tend to have been around longer, though just as with words like “vintage” or “antique,” there seems to be little agreement about just how long a history a plant must have before it earns the status of an heirloom vegetable.

Original content © 2015, 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This is an expanded version of an article I originally published on the now-defunct site Elite Writers in January of 2015. It now appears on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

5 Fantastic Ways to Liven Up the Humble Turnip

 

Turnip or Rutabaga?

It’s a Canadian thing. The vegetable that I grew up calling turnip is actually a rutabaga. This homely vegetable is thought to be a cross between a wild cabbage and a white turnip. Rutabaga is also known as swede, yellow turnip, or winter turnip. It is larger than a white turnip, and therefore easier to peel. It is good for long storage too, whereas your white turnips may not have the same staying power.

Both the white turnip and the yellow turnip belong to the brassica family, whose members are high in vitamins A, C and K, folic acid, and fiber. They also contain a surprising amount of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and glucosinolate. You may know the brassicas as cruciferous vegetables, a name derived from the distinctive cross shape of their flowers.

 

What am I going to do with 20 lbs of yellow turnips?
The true turnip, otherwise known as summer turnip or white turnip (Image: Clagett Farm CSA at thebittenword.com/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

 

How to Cook Turnips

Most folks are a bit hesitant to cook turnips because – well, they’ve never cooked with turnip! Some people do boil and mash them, but since many people find the taste sharp by itself it’s good to know a few other ways to introduce turnip into your diet.

  1. Eat turnip raw: Just cut it into small pieces and enjoy as is. Believe me, it’s good! Or you can try cutting it into julienne strips or shredding it to make a turnip slaw. This is one dish I’m looking forward to trying next time, as I love both coleslaw and broccoli slaw!
  2. Boil turnip: Cook up a batch of turnips and simply mash them with a little butter and salt. It’s heavenly, especially when made with the pretty yellow flesh of a rutabaga! You can also mash turnip with other root vegetables.

My mother-in-law used to make Scottish “tatties and neeps” in order to sneak the turnip into my husband’s diet when he was little. There is also rotmos, a Swedish puree traditionally made from turnip, carrot and potato. I like to leave out the potato, and just blend equal proportions of the carrot and turnip. It’s so sweet and delicious!

Other good matches for boiled turnip would be sweet potato, or even a little baked acorn or butternut squash. Flavour your mash with freshly grated ginger, some cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice, a little paprika or some thyme. Turnip goes well with chives, onion, or garlic too.

You don’t even have to mash the turnip after boiling it. Instead, try cutting it into julienne strips before cooking, and just serve your turnip julienne with a little butter or a honey-lemon glaze.

  1. Add turnip to soups and stews: I’ve always loved a good beef stew with turnip in it. But you can toss a bit of turnip into just about any soup or stew to boost its nutritional content, and bring a little zip to the flavour. Not too made about soup? Try cooking up this Indian turnip curry, or Shalgam Masala.
  1. Bake or roast turnips: Cooking turnips in the oven is a snap. Just brush with a little olive oil and sea salt, and roast for about 30 minutes at 400ºF. You can also just slice a winter turnip into 1/2” pieces and tuck them under a chicken or turkey before cooking.

If you want to add turnip to a casserole with other foods, steam or boil it briefly first and then pat dry. This allows you to add turnips to recipes the otherwise wouldn’t give it the chance to cook all the way through. Roast turnip with other root vegetables like carrots or parsnips, or bake it with slices of butternut squash. If you like cheese, try sprinkling with a little Parmesan before serving.

  1. Make turnip noodles: If this idea sounds crazy to you, maybe you haven’t heard of spiralizing. Essentially, this cool new trend involves using a special spiral vegetable cutting gadget that slices your veggies into long thin ribbons – just like pasta noodles! The “noodles” are served with your favourite sauces instead of the less healthy, high carb pasta that puts a spare tire around our middles. Serving spiralized turnip is a great way to include this nutritious veggie in your diet. Eat them raw or cooked!

 

Did you find this post informative? If so, I hope you’ll share it with others who will be interested in learning more about turnips! Share this post by using the social media sharing buttons at left, or feel free to use the image below to pin it on Pinterest.

 

How to cook turnips – or rutabagas, neeps, swede, or winter turnip, as the case may be! | #vegetables #TurnUpForWhat #turnip
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(Turnip photo: condesign/Pixabay/CC0)

How to Get the Best Value from Fresh Carrots

 

How to Get the Best Value from Fresh Carrots by Kyla Matton Osborne (Ruby3881) | 24 Carrot Diet (modified from an image by ClkerFreeVectorImages/Pixabay/CC0)

 

Carrots are a fabulous vegetable to make friends with! They are inexpensive and plentiful all year round. They store well. They are low in calories and they contain a whole whack of micronutrients. They are versatile, and they are used as aromatics in a large number of recipes and international cuisines.

Carrots are a staple that should be on everyone’s shopping list. But of course, that means a lot of folks will want to know how to handle them in order to preserve all their goodness – and how to get the most out of the food dollars they are spending on carrots!

Storing and Preserving Carrots

Much as I dislike leaving produce in plastic bags, this is actually the best thing for carrots. Tightly sealed in a plastic bag, carrots will keep for upwards of a month in your fridge. If you buy them fresh at the farmers’ market, cut off the tops before storing and then put them in a plastic bag that will retain their moisture.

The important thing with carrots is to keep them cool and dry, and to protect them from light. So if you have a really large quantity of fresh carrots to store, something along the lines of a root cellar (or a cool corner in your pantry) is probably the best solution. If you must preserve a large quantity of carrots that you can’t adequately store, you can choose between canning, pickling and freezing. Freezing carrots is probably the simplest and best in terms of nutritional value.

 

Did you know you could cook with carrot tops? (Image: beata_kom/Pixabay/CC0)
Cook carrot tops as a green leafy vegetable, or use it the way you would use herbs like parsley (Image: Beáta Komorníková/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

 

Use Your Carrot Tops

If you buy your carrots with the tops intact, don’t throw the greens away! Take advantage of the “free extra” by cooking the carrot tops. But do cut off the greens as soon as you get home. They need to be treated differently, so you always want to remove them right away and store them separately. If you leave the greens attached they will pull moisture and nutrients back up, out of the carrot roots. This will dry your carrots out, and cause them to spoil more quickly.

Use your carrot greens as a vegetable on their own, or use them as you would a fresh herb like parsley, basil or cilantro. Add carrot tops to soups in place of spinach. Or fix up a fabulous carrot top pesto or tabouleh.

To Peel or Not to Peel?

One of the reasons people peel some fruits and vegetables is because they worry about higher concentrations of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. But because carrots are a root vegetable, the skin doesn’t contain more chemicals than the rest of the carrot. So there isn’t any reason why you’d have to peel your carrots.

That being said, there’s no special reason not to peel them either! You might lose some of the fibre. And any time you remove the skin of a vegetable, you are losing some of its nutrients. It’s also extra work. So if your carrots taste fine with the skins on, just give them a good scrub! If they taste a little bitter, peeling can improve the taste.

 

How to Get the Best Value from Fresh Carrots (Image: jackmac34/Pixabay/CC0)
Carrots are inexpensive, versatile, and packed with nutrients! Learn to get the best value from them (Image: Jacqueline Macou/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

 

Carrots Add Flavour to Soups and Broths

I love to make soups that contain carrots, like my creamy carrot and cauliflower soup. But I use carrots to make clear broth for cooking too.

Always give your carrots a bit of a wash before you prepare them. This way, you can save the cut ends and any peels for your soup bag. Carrot is an aromatic vegetable, and is frequently called for when making broths for soup. But why throw in a whole carrot that you could eat, when you can use the parts you don’t eat?

Just keep a zippered storage bag in your freezer, and whenever you have bits of carrot, celery, onion, etc. leftover from preparing veggies for cooking, toss them in! When the bag is full, you can add its contents to some boiling water in a stock pot, and create some lovely vegetable broth. Or add the vegetables to a beef stock that you’re making from soup bones, or to a chicken or turkey stock that uses a carcass you’ve saved after a meal.

 

For more tips on storing food properly to save money,

check out how to store lettuce for up to two weeks.

 

Note: This article is an original work first published by the author in May 2015 on Seraphic Insights