Heirloom veggies deliver flavor, authenticity

  • In this undated photo provided by Seed Savers Exchange, this unusual pepper variety, the Chocolate Beauty, matures from green to a mellow brown as shown here. It makes a flavorful and colorful addition to salads and stir-fry mixtures. (AP Photo/Seed Savers Exchange)

As recently as a decade ago, the word "heirloom" was used to describe jewels, furniture or handicrafts — one-of-a-kind items of uncommon quality or design — that were passed down by families over generations. Now, that tag is just as frequently attached to vegetables, fruit and flowers.

Enthusiasts say heirloom vegetables offer more flavor, nostalgia and authenticity.

"I think it's all about the flavor," said Kathy Mendelson, a botanist from the Seattle area and author of a website called "The Heirloom Vegetable Gardener's Assistant."

"Nobody wants a plateful of bland for dinner, and the best of the heirlooms have flavors that are complicated - delicate, bold, sweet, not sweet, rich, distinctive and more," Mendelson said.

Nostalgia plays an important part, too, she said, but heirlooms are more than just sentimental favorites: "For example, they can have to do with family, community, certainly with culture, and also History with a capital 'H' - researched and documented."

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