Why Heirloom?

Because they are the tastiest always! That’s the short answer, the long answer is more complicated. Once upon a time all vegetables were heirloom – the definition is simply varieties of fruits and vegetables where the seed is viable and true to type (with some genetic diversity) and passed down through the generations human to human. Heirloom implies traditional, old, heritage and something you’d likely find everywhere if you went back in history 60 years. Today, heirlooms are making a big comeback – they are finally trendy! They tend to have a ton of flavor, come in odd shapes and not look at all like anything you typically see in a grocery store. The downside of an heirloom is it’s lack of shelf life. No big deal if you shop at a farmers market or grow your own garden, but if you shop regularly at a grocery store you are unlikely to find an heirloom anywhere.

Thank goodness heirlooms are making a comeback and becoming more of a household word! Up to 90% of diversity within food crops has been lost since the turn of the last century replaced by one variety of corn, one variety of cucumber, one variety of tomato and so forth. With the resurgence of interest and the return of a discerning palate heirlooms are out of danger for now. If you are interested in learning and growing heirlooms you’ll want to know about the amazing work of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Iowa. They have literally rescued thousands of varieties of endangered seeds and making them available to the public. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company is another entrepreneurial business venture that began for Jeri Gettle in his bedroom when he was a teenager. They sell┬áthousands of seeds from all over the world and hosts the National Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa every year.

We were blessed to have moved in next door to Italian market gardeners that operated at the turn of the 20th century up until the late 1970s. They were famous for their onions and tomatoes and that legacy continues today. We are very proud to continue growing these two local heirlooms – the red Camay tomato and the sweet red onion. Both of which are available now at our farm┬ástand and through our CSA.

 

On the stems of the Calaveras tomato and the importance of observation

Source: On the stems of the Calaveras tomato and the importance of observation

The Story of the Murphys’ Onion

We recently harvested our onion crop – a bumper crop this year and surprisingly so because we planted them in January. This incredible specimen is a true Murphys’ heirloom from the Vogliotti family. They were Italian market gardeners and also our neighbors for a good many years. It was one warm summer day, twenty year’s ago or so, that we went to visit Josephine Vogliotti. She was the last living member of her family at age 96 – her brother Ernie was 102 when he died

. The family was famous for their “vege-tables”, as she liked to say, selling them to the miners by horsecart in the day and later to folks that would come out to the ranch. For several years we’d been growing “their” tomato, the Camalay, and we would often bring her down a couple to enjoy and as always she would hold one in her hands and smell deeply, exclaiming “this is one of ours, isn’t it?” Those were precious moments and still today, after 22 years of growing and saving seed from that tomato, her words spring a tear. It was on one of these visits that Josephine directed us down to the cellar (where she hadn’t been for many years) to a jar on the shelf filled with onion seeds. We took those seeds home and germinated them just as she instructed (the first week after the full moon in August!). Luckily a few sprouted and that year we grew our first Vogliotti onion. After many trials and near losses, we were able to successfully bring this onion from near extinction to plenty. We have subsequently grown, harvested and shared many of the seeds with gardening friends to help preserve this now unique variety. The story goes that the onion was bought from Burpee seeds as a Red Weathersfield in the late 1890’s and continually grown at the ranch until the early 1990’s. They grew it for 100 years because of it’s flavor! We consider it be the best tasting summer onions ever. Eaten raw it is sweet and mild flavored, wonderfully so that it is perfect in a Greek salad or in a sandwich (with no oniony aftertaste!). Equally delicious sauteed or caramelized.
We posted a recipe to try it out on here