Best of the 2011 Test Garden: Old Favorites

The Best Heirloom Vegetables from Organic Gardening's Test Garden in 2011

February 23, 2012

Heirloom vegetables are enjoying a wave of popularity, buoyed in part by a move toward healthier eating. The best of these heritage varieties offer nostalgic flavors that aren’t available from modern hybrids. Here are some of the older varieties that impressed us in the 2011 Test Garden.

‘Golden’ Beet


‘Golden’ has a milder, more delicate taste than traditional red beets. The golden-orange roots are beautiful in salads, and they don’t “bleed” when cut. Cook them as baby beets, greens and all, or leave them to mature to full size.

Source: Renee’s Garden


‘Hinkelhatz’ Hot Pepper

Shy of habenero peppers in its intensity but still plenty hot for our taste, this Pennsylvania Dutch heirloom will set your taste buds ablaze. A generous producer, ‘Hinkelhatz’ has thin-walled fruits that are good for pickling or drying.

Source: Seed Savers Exchange


‘Brilliant’ Celeriac

Although we were first-timers at planting this unusual root crop, it grew and prospered without any fussing on our part. The scruffy exteriors belie the pristine white flesh inside—like a crisp, raw potato, but with a mild celery flavor.

Source: Territorial Seed Co.


‘Fagiolino Dolico de Veneto’ Cowpea

This heirloom southern pea seems to have made its way to America via Italy. Harvest the peas fresh or leave them to dry on the vines. They look like tiny black-eyed peas; they’re quick to cook and tasty.

Source: Terroir Seeds


‘Sugar Loaf Hessel’ Squash

Not a squash fan? Let this one change your mind. Delicata-type squashes belong to the same species as summer squashes, such as yellow crooknecks and zucchinis. But when roasted, they have the velvety texture and melt-in-your-mouth sweetness of the best winter squashes.

Source: Nichols Garden Nursery


‘Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored’ Popcorn

Although it takes a good amount of space in the garden, popcorn is easy to grow and surprisingly productive. The popped kernels of this heirloom variety are on the small side and so tasty you might decide to skip the butter.

Source: Fedco Seeds


‘Fengyuan Purple’ Eggplant

Asian eggplants with long, slender fruits are known for their excellent flavor and smooth texture. This variety didn’t disappoint; its fruits grew to a foot in length yet stayed mild and without a trace of bitterness.

Source: Tomato Growers Supply Co.


‘Chinese Red Noodle’ Pole Bean

This kid-pleasing bean grows and grows—yet the glossy wine red pods stay tender and delicious, even when they are nearly 2 feet in length. Try them sautéed with a bit of garlic.

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds


‘Chervena Chushka’ Sweet Pepper

A beautiful glossy red pepper, this Bulgarian heirloom impressed us with its sweet flavor. Enjoy the tapered fruits fresh or roasted on the grill. The plants are bushy and productive.

Source: Seed Savers Exchange


‘Golden Cal Wonder’ Sweet Pepper

This sweet bell pepper ripens to brilliant yellow. The thick-walled fruits with a square, four-lobed shape lend themselves to stuffing. Not a good performer in the hottest climates.

Source: Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply


‘Roumanian Rainbow’ Sweet Pepper

The 4-inch fruits start as a ghostly ivory hue, gradually become orange, and then reach their maximum sweetness when they mature to bright red. With all that color, the plants are quite decorative in the garden.

Source: Tomato Growers Supply Co.


‘Cocozelle’ Zucchini

Open-pollinated ‘Cocozelle’ is quick to bear fruit and of average disease resistance. The fruits are slim and attractively striped and have a hearty zucchini flavor.

Source: Nichols Garden Nursery

Read More: Best Flowers from the 2011 Test Garden


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