Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste

Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: Heirloom Seed Savers in Appalachia

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Ohio University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste
    Book Description:

    The Brown Goose, the White Case Knife, Ora's Speckled Bean, Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter - these are just a few of the heirloom fruits and vegetables you'll encounter in Bill Best's remarkable history of seed saving and the people who preserve both unique flavors and the Appalachian culture associated with them. As one of the people at the forefront of seed saving and trading for over fifty years, Best has helped preserve numerous varieties of beans, tomatoes, corn, squashes, and other fruits and vegetables, along with the family stories and experiences that are a fundamental part of this world. While corporate agriculture privileges a few flavorless but hardy varieties of daily vegetables, seed savers have worked tirelessly to preserve genetic diversity and the flavors rooted in the Southern Appalachian Mountains - referred to by plant scientists as one of the vegetative wonders of the world. Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste will introduce readers to the cultural traditions associated with seed saving, as well as the remarkable people who have used grafting practices and hand-by-hand trading to keep alive varieties that would otherwise have been lost. As local efforts to preserve heirloom seeds have become part of a growing national food movement, Appalachian seed savers play a crucial role in providing alternatives to large-scale agriculture and corporate food culture. Part flavor guide, part people's history, Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste will introduce you to a world you've never known - or perhaps remind you of one you remember well from your childhood.

    eISBN: 978-0-8214-4462-7
    Subjects: Technology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Howard L. Sacks

    A colleague of mine recently shared an eyebrow-raising story involving her college course “Botany and Botanical Arts.” In an “unknown plant” assignment, students were given different “mystery” seeds that they were challenged to cultivate, observe, and identify. One day my colleague discovered a student in the greenhouse who was at a loss over how much to water the plants; the exasperated student explained that she had never before planted a seed.

    How removed we have become from an act so fundamental to human civilization! Planting a seed—horticulture—prompted our early ancestors to abandon a nomadic life of foraging to...

  4. Dedication
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. An Introduction to Heritage and Heirloom Seed Saving
    (pp. 1-10)

    I grew up believing that the Goose Bean was discovered by my great-grandfather Sanford. My mother had told me that he had shot a wild goose and her grandmother had discovered some bean seeds in its craw as she was dressing it for a meal. The beans were planted, grew to maturity, had a good flavor, and became one of many varieties of beans kept by our family.

    Years later I discovered that many children in the Southern Appalachians had been told the same story by their parents. Essentially the same tale was also told about the Turkey Craw Bean:...

  7. Part 1: Heritage Fruit and Heirloom Seeds
    • Beans
      (pp. 13-74)

      Beans occupy an almost mythical status not only in the Southern Appalachians but also in other bean-growing parts of the world. They have been found in Indian burial mounds and in pyramids. When kept in airtight jars, they have been found to be viable after hundreds and even thousands of years.

      Corn, of course, also occupies high status in many cultures, with corn and beans being the dominant foods. Together, and accompanied by pumpkins, they occupied a special status within many Indian tribes, who saw them as the Three Sisters, for their growth habits were symbiotic, with the cornstalks providing...

    • Tomatoes
      (pp. 75-94)

      Unlike beans, tomatoes were not particularly prominent historically in the diet of Southern Appalachian people. Harriette Arnow, in her splendid book Seedtime on the Cumberland, discusses beans on 15 pages of her 449-page book. She goes into great detail about growing beans, harvesting them, cooking them, and preserving them in various ways. She discusses how much they were worth with respect to other foods commonly grown by the settlers and those who developed the Cumberland River area of Kentucky and Tennessee. But in this widely respected and thoroughly researched book about the early history of a large part of the...

    • Apples
      (pp. 95-104)

      In the part of Haywood County, North Carolina, where I was born and raised, we had our favorite apple varieties, which included the June Apple, Northern Spy, Yellow Transparent, Winter Banana, and Horse Apple. We also had numerous sweet apples that did not have names and were probably grown from seed and not grafted. Still, the nameless varieties were good for drying and cooking, and some for eating fresh as well.

      The June Apple, a red apple darker on one side than on the other, was the earliest and smallest, and we always ate them fresh. The Yellow Transparent was...

    • Corn
      (pp. 105-113)

      One of my earliest memories is going with my father to the mill to have corn ground into cornmeal. The mill was several miles downstream from our house after several creeks had run together to make a stream large enough to turn the overshot wheel and grind corn. The elevation of the land at that point was suitable to locate the mill: the raceway where the water ran lost altitude quickly and thus did not have to be too long before the water turned the overshot wheel.

      We would take enough corn to last us two or three weeks, and...

    • Candy Roasters
      (pp. 114-116)

      Most people in my home community grew a few pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns and sometimes for cattle feed, but few grew them for human food. The candy roaster was the winter squash of choice then and now. The candy roaster is widely grown in western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and East Tennessee. It has a sweet flavor and is used for making pies, candy roaster butter, and candy roaster breads and can be used in combination with other foods.

      The candy roaster is a very long winter squash, thought to have originated with the Cherokees, and can weigh more than fifty...

    • Cucumbers
      (pp. 117-120)

      While not as popular as beans and tomatoes, heirloom cucumbers occupy a special status in the gardens of many people who grow heirloom vegetables. Many of the old-time cucumbers are somewhat whitish and very tender. They can be eaten without being peeled, and most have a mild flavor.

      The following is a story given to me by Fred Beddingfield, of Zirconia, North Carolina, about his great-grandmother Rosie Queen’s seed saving.

      These little white pickler-type cucumber seeds were passed down to my great-grandmother Rosie Queen from her aunt not long after the Civil War. She in turn saved the seeds and...

  8. Part 2: Seed Savers
    • Seeds, Family, Community, and Traditions
      (pp. 123-129)

      The can house where my mother kept her freezer and her canned fruits and vegetables has only one small window and one electric light. It is mostly underground, so the temperature is fairly constant, and with the light off, it is quite dark. There one can still find on the shelves many quart jars of beans Mother canned as far back as the 1970s, still looking as though they were canned during the past summer. And until recently her freezer still contained bean seeds going all the way back to the mid-1970s.

      Traditions die slowly, and the canning traditions of...

    • Keepers and Distributors of the Seeds
      (pp. 130-190)

      In addition to the thousands of individuals in the Southern Appalachians who dutifully plant, tend, harvest, eat, preserve, and save seeds of the heirloom and heritage varieties of vegetables, grains, and fruits of the region, there are many who have taken upon themselves the additional responsibility of saving our edi-ble plant genetic heritage for future generations. The following pages honor a few who have passed on recently, as well as some of those still at work, many who have been seed savers for most of their lives.

      My mother collected seeds all her life, as her mother and grandmothers had...

  9. For Further Reading
    (pp. 191-192)
  10. Index
    (pp. 193-201)