Thursday, 13 May 2010

help an heirloom

As heard on FBi Radio (click here to listen)

The United Nations has declared May 22 International Day for Biological Diversity. While it goes broader and deeper than just what we eat, it's time to stop and think for a sec, about the last time you saw an heirloom vegetable. It's even possible that you've never seen one.

The simplest definition of heirloom varieties are that they are varieties that were commonly grown generations ago, but aren't used in commercial cultivation. Passed on from generation to generation via seed and graft, there's a huge range of fruit and vegetables that fall into this category.

Call it the advent of supermarket culture, but the reason we're familiar with certain species of tomatoes - roma, cherry, for example, as opposed to Wapsipinicon peach, green zebra or black Russians is simply because supermarket varieties are generally:

- faster to cultivate
- transport well without bruising
- keep longer without spoiling

Note the absence of any points referring to taste, texture or aroma in the list above.

Heirloom vegetables may be a hot topic for chefs at the moment, and while fashion trends in any industry can help or hinder a cause, the reason the hottest retaurants in town are using them - (Dan Hunter's Royal Mail Hotel, Matt Kemp's Restaurant Balzac, and Jared Ingersoll's new resto Cotton Duck, for instance) - is because they taste better.

Shocking, but true. Another truth of the matter is that if we stop consuming rarer species of fruit, vegetables and animals (think Berkshire pig, not whale), then sooner or later, we shouldn't be surprised that we no longer have the choice to consume them.

Some places to find heirloom vegetables:

Buy them: Farmers Markets - Everleigh, the new Taylor Square and regional markets are great places to look.

Grow them: The Digger's Club (the guys involved in Melbourne Food & Wine's awesome Edible Garden) is a great place to start, if you're looking for seeds or seedlings to get your own garden started.

Read on: International Day for Biological Diversity, Carli Ratcliff's Hunter Gatherer blog for SBS