Ordering vegetable seeds each year is a process of looking back at what worked and what didn’t and ahead to re-ordering old favorites and tempting new varieties. It’s a pleasant process, a good way to spend some January afternoons. This year though there was some sadness as well as I looked for acceptable replacements for some long-time favorites no longer available.
Avalanche Beet and Red Cored Chantenay carrot were delicious additions to the kitchen garden’s root vegetables this year. I’d ordered Avalanche, a sweet white beet and recent AAS winner, for its color. It looked great steamed or roasted with yellow and red beets and though its flavor was a bit milder than a red beet it was still deliciously beetlike. I’d ordered Red Cored Chantenay because my friend Mary gave me one to taste last winter and I was amazed by its juicy sweet carrot flavor. It’s an heirloom from the late 19th century and one I’m grateful is still available. I’ve also been especially impressed by how well it’s held this winter, heavily mulched with hay, through 20 degree night-time temperatures.
Two tomatoes that I’ll definitely plant again this year are Sunchocola , a large henna-colored cherry tomato, and Fiaschetto de Manduria, a paste tomato from Puglia via Uprising Organics. Both were flavorful whether fresh, roasted or dried. And both produced early and continued to provide lots of tomatoes throughout the summer.
A couple surprising disappointments were Escamillo and Lipstick peppers from Johnny’s. Johnny’s wonderful Carmen has been a favorite for years and the catalog described Escamillo as Carmen’s “perfect, golden-yellow partner.” It did look pretty but it was missing the sweet and spicy flavors I like in peppers. Lipstick tempted me with its blockier shape compared to Carmen’s bull’s-horn shape but it wasn’t so productive as Carmen or so flavorful.
It’s hard to resist new varieties of tomatoes and this year I gave in to two. The first is Orange Paruche, described by Territorial as “succulent, sweet and flavorful,” excelling “in productivity and taste with astonishing quantities of brilliant, glowing orange fruit.” But the deciding piece of praise for me was that Orange Paruche won Territorial’s in-house taste test. The second is from Territorial’s Heritage Marriage Series, Cherokee Carbon The catalog describes it as “the best of Cherokee Purple and Carbon… beautiful beefsteaks [that] have a dusky blush and rich, delicious flavor.” Cherokee Purple is one of my favorites and my friend Carol says Carbon is a great tomato so maybe this marriage will work.
Sugar Snap peas and Copra onions were two sources of sadness. For the past several years I’ve noticed the corruption of the original strain of Sugar Snap peas; more and more off types have been turning up, peas the shape of flimsy snow peas mixed in with the classic crunchy, sweet edible pea pod. Most catalogs no longer even offer the original Sugar Snap, suggesting as replacement Super Sugar Snap. I’ve tried Super Sugar Snap and been disappointed by the flavor so this year, intrigued by their catalog description, I’m trying Adaptive Seeds’ Sugaree . “A classic green sugar snap pea… Super tasty with a classic sweet crunch …Originally bred to be a public domain replacement for Sugar Snap…”
Copra has been the perfect yellow storage onion in my garden for years but this year’s Fedco catalog signaled its end with their description of Patterson Onion, the suggested replacement: “2016 is a time of great partings. Which is worse: losing Obama as president or losing Copra onion?” Well, there are replacements for Copra. Turning to Adaptive Seeds again, I’m going to try their Newburg described as “simply the best open pollinated yellow storage-onion… a great replacement for the classic Hybrid Copra.” I can feel optimistic about a replacement onion; as for the just-inaugurated replacement for Obama, I feel only despair.
The garden can offer some relief from despair. It’s an act of hope to bury a small seed in the ground and trust that it will produce a plant and food. And the hopefulness of gardening can be a metaphor for other acts of hope. Small seeds of goodness can germinate, can grow and reach out into the world. I can’t order these seeds from a catalog but I’m going to look hard for them in the year ahead, plant them and join with others to move beyond despair.