A full view of the plants that sustain us includes the history of our relationships to them and the science that helps us understand their wonders.
"Vegetables of Interest" is a tiny green enterprise that sprouted from the stump of my long-held interests in history, farming, science and food. In its early stages VOI was principally a preservation effort. Like many heirloom gardeners, I devoted a portion of my crop to seed preservation. Trading seeds of rare or historic vegetables with other gardeners helps maintain a level of continuous cultivation that is required for the survival of the many cultivars that have now been abandoned by commercial trade. But while this work is important it is not enough.
I believe that gardeners of historic plants must nurture the interest of non-gardeners to grow beyond the words "heirloom" or "organic." In short, we must encourage a farm and food literacy that does not stop at labels. Nearly all heirloom fruits and vegetables represent a felicitous match between one plant’s unique attributes and the alert sensibilities of past generations of farmers and cooks. Our task today is to reintroduce these valuable plants to a broader public and to help them understand why these plants have importance both in our history and in our future.
And so in recent years I have begun to "plant" some of these vegetables and their stories into the kitchens of friends and cooking professionals. I have called this project "Vegetables of Interest." Each season I grow a collection of vegetables which tell stories about the history, science and culinary use of vegetables. The curriculum, like my garden, is informal and small. I attach short stories or lessons to each vegetable, offering what I know as potential germination points for the readers' imagination. Brillat Savant observed that "we first taste with the eye". My goal in this project is for the mind and the eye to share the first nibble.
The final teaching point in these lessons I leave to the wonderful vegetables themselves. Taste them, savor them, think about them. Bound by farm twine or nestled in native straw you have received a living bounty that countless people before you found to be productive, nurturing, and tasteful. It can be so again for you. And I hope you find that interesting.