This time last year, my son Kyle and I were planning a trip to Decorah, Iowa, for the annual conference and campout at Seed Savers Exchange (check them out at SeedSavers.org). What a great time we had, and how blessed I felt to get such an extended visit with my recent college graduate! Kyle shares my interest in gardening, and although he isn’t able to have his own garden yet, I think he will one day.
Since moving to Adventure Farm, I’ve been intrigued by growing open-pollinated vegetable varieties in my garden, and you can’t find a better source for seeds or inspiration than Seed Savers. The stories that go with the seeds give fascinating insights into our immigrant and pioneer history, not to mention the fact that you cannot find many of these delicious varieties in your local nursery or grocery store. Charentais melon (a true cantaloupe), Brandywine tomatoes, Moon and Stars watermelon, Tollie’s pepper, Early Blood Turnip beets ... you have to see and taste these and so many more beautiful varieties, if you get the chance. (It is getting easier to find some of these “heirloom” seeds; I see some of them in my local farm stores, although Seed Savers is still one of the primary go-to places if you really want to delve into what’s available.)
There’s something very satisfying to me about growing seeds from varieties that have been handed down through generations of families; it provides a feeling of connection to people who have gone before me. I think about the lives they lived, how hard they worked, how life dealt them joys and sorrows just like it does to all of us ... and I’m thankful that these seeds and their stories have been preserved.
Did you know that when you grow an open-pollinated vegetable in your garden, let’s say a tomato, and you save seeds from some of the nicest fruits to replant in later years, that the subsequent generations of tomatoes can adapt to your particular growing conditions? That is a fascinating concept! That’s just one reason it’s so important to keep older varieties going.
Modern hybrid seeds can offer many good qualities, as well, but be aware that if you save seeds from a hybrid plant, you will not get offspring that are true-to-type; in other words, you will be growing an experiment! That’s not all bad, of course, but if you want to know that you are going to get delicious Brandywine tomatoes year after year from seeds you save, you need to save those seeds from open-pollinated plants.
I tried an heirloom variety of squash last year, “Sweet Fall Squash,” and I’m hooked. I grew one hill of them in a raised bed outside my east living room window, and for starters, it was a beautiful plant. I was sad when the frost finally got it and I took it to the compost pile.
Before it was spent it had given me six amazing squash, which I cured on window screens for a few weeks, then put on a shelf on my cool back porch. Throughout the winter I roasted them in the oven, using some for squash/apple casseroles and freezing the rest of the pulp for baked goods. The last two made it through until March and yielded eight cups of gorgeous, deep orange pulp! I saved the seeds for future plantings.
My favorite use of the pulp is in a muffin recipe, included below. We love them, and they’re good for you! Here’s the story of “Sweet Fall” squash, taken from the back of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) seed packet:
“Donated to SSE in 1998 by Ortha and Wallace Broeker of Nebraska. Wallace remembers his uncle Rob growing this variety back in the 1930s. Wallace’s cousin Harold received seed from Rob and passed some on to Wallace and Ortha in the late 1940s.”
Here’s the description, also from the seed packet:
“(Curcurbita maxima) Vining plants; Hubbard type, teardrop-shaped fruit; attractive salmon and blue-green skin; fruits average 4 lbs; excellent eating qualities, very sweet, unique flavor; a staff favorite.”
... and now a favorite of this gardener in Indiana. May seeds and knowledge always be freely exchanged!
Sweet Fall Squash Muffins
Yields 12 muffins.
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup cooked, pureed “Sweet Fall” squash (any good squash pulp will work)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons orange juice
Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease muffin tins or fill with paper liners; set aside.
Using mixer, cream together brown sugar, butter and molasses. Beat in egg and squash puree.
In another bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, soda and salt. Stir flour mixture into squash mixture just until blended; do not overmix or muffins will be tough.
Add orange juice and stir gently just until all is moistened.
Fill muffin tins. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.
Streusel Topping (optional, but I highly recommend it):
Use pastry cutter to cut 2 tablespoons butter into 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. Sprinkle streusel over top of muffins before baking.