What Are Some Old Vegetables For Flavor

“What’s a shall it?” a lady asked me at question time following a talk at a garden club. Or so it sounded, but when she added that it is often mentioned in recipes, I recognized a variant pronunciation of shallot, more familiar when sounded like allot, not a ballot. 

The word is the French eschalote, minus the initial “e”. Her recipes were probably European since over there the shallot is well known and liked for its mildness, being one of the gentlest of the onion tribe. 

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Half a century ago, it was quite common in our gardens. Strangely enough, it seems to have almost disappeared from cultivation in the north, though it is still a minor commercial crop in the south.

Shallot: A Small Onion

The shallot is a small onion that matures, not into a single globular bulb, but 6 or 8 pear-shaped cloves about 2” inches long, joined at the root. 

These are separated when the chive-like leaves have turned yellow, then are dried in the sun and stored for use as required. It is from these cloves or offsets that the following year’s crop is grown. Its simple culture is the same as for onion.

In Praise of Leeks

Good Member of Onion Tribe

Another good member of the onion tribe that has fallen from favor is the leek. Its fall, if not so far, is equally undeserved, for it is not difficult to grow and is a most useful and versatile vegetable in the kitchen. 

Instead of a bulb, it has a thick and succulent stalk, which is blanched by earthing up and is hardy enough to withstand a certain amount of cold weather. 

Boiled or braised, pureed or stewed, the leek is an epicure’s vegetable — tender in texture and pleasant in taste.

Nobody can deny that plant breeders have worked wonders in developing all sorts of varieties that are more productive and more resistant to disease. 

The More Bountiful, The More Marketable

But, almost always, their aim is directed towards the more bountiful, more marketable crops that the commercial grower wants. The indefinable quality of flavor often suffers in the processes of man’s efforts to make changes in the character of a plant.

Complaints have been heard, for example, that when the strings were bred out of beans, so was the flavor. Plenty of beany flavor can be had in the crooked pods of the old Kentucky Wonder pole bean. 

For more shapely pods combined with flavor, there is an unbeatable pole bean now named Blue Cocos that long ago was familiar under other names. 

It has suffered not only because it is a pole bean but also because its ample pods are pigmented with deep purple. This disappears in cooking, however, leaving only a rich green color.

Purple Broccoli: High-Quality Old Vegetable

Another high-quality old vegetable with this evanescent coloration is purple broccoli. Everyone knows how green broccoli has climbed rapidly to popularity in the past 25 years, and its success is deserved. 

For it is quite easy to raise provided the soil is good and not allowed to become dry. Big leafy plants draw up and evaporate large quantities of water, so they should be aided by a deep mulch. 

An early strain of purple broccoli has now been introduced and it will be interesting to see whether it gains acceptance.

Modern Plant Breeding

One of the greatest triumphs of modern plant breeding, based on the science of genetics, is hybrid corn, which can now be developed almost to specification. 

Uniformity is a character of hybrids that is invaluable to the commercial grower, particularly uniformity in ripening, which makes mechanical harvesting practicable. 

But for the home gardener, it is not desirable to have all the ears ready at the same time, as thus they can all be used only with the aid of a freezer. 

Despite the size and handsome appearance of the hybrids, there are impenitent conservatives who prize the little old Golden Bantam, a Yankee if ever there was one. 

Navajo: Sweetest of All Sweet Corns

A few still grow Black Mexican, originally a Navajo, the sweetest of all sweet corns, despite the necessity of picking each ear on the one day when it is at its prime.

No where has commerce lowered American table standards of taste more than in salads. 

Local truck gardeners can, and often do, bring good lettuces to market in summer, and in winter the long-distance shippers do a wonderful job in making supplies constantly available. 

But the tightly rolled balls of blanched leaves that have been developed to stand the rough-and-tumble of transport arc devoid of succulence and flavor, yet people have now become so accustomed to such fare that they accept them without demur or even take them by preference.

A Word on Lettuce

Some of the oldest lettuce varieties, better suited for the garden than for the farm, are still the best. 

They include not only the familiar loose-leaf type, but also heading lettuce such as the small, sweet Mignonette or the little thicker-leafed Bibb, the heat-resistant Oak Leaf, and Matchless or Deer’s Tongue, which is midway between Cos and standard lettuce.

The good quality and great convenience of quick-frozen peas have led most home gardeners to drop this species, long their pride. 

But for something now unusual, the edible-podded or sugar pea is worth growing. Cooked and served like beans, it makes a very agreeable dish.

“Old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, old authors to read” —we might add to Bacon’s list “old vegetables to eat.”

44659 by Francis C. Coulter