William Woys Weaver has written an important book in Heirloom Vegetable Gardening
--important for the kitchen gardener, the cook, the historian, and any American who might wonder what our forebears were up to when they sat down to eat. What was the food on their table? Where did it come from? How did they get it? All these questions are addressed in Weaver's elegant prose.
But there's another side to the story, and Weaver meets his reader there, too: Where is food headed, and what's an individual to do?
We have seen the rise of hybrid crops in the years since World War II. They are good for the seed business because the grower can't just let a few plants grow to seed, save the seed, then plant that seed next season. Hybridized plants don't yield seed that's true to the character of the plant, so the grower has to return to the seed rack year after year. Buying seed on a commercial level is a big deal, as is growing enough of it to meet the market. A lot of tillable land in South America isn't growing food for hungry South Americans, but growing corn seed for American farmers, and the biggest use of corn in this country is animal feed. Not many hungry South Americans get to eat corn-fed American beef and pork. In one sense, he who controls seed controls food. Or, he who owns seed owns food, and the highest bidder takes all.
Heirloom seed, then, is more than a trinket or curiosity from the past. It represents the chance of survival in the future. Should an as-yet-unknown plant virus come along and take out the American hybrid corn crop (something that has in fact come close to happening), it's the genetic diversity available in heirloom, open-pollinated seeds that will save the bacon. Governments maintain plant gene banks, but individuals can do much the same, and authors like Weaver show how.
What Weaver injects into the tale is the incredible pleasure that comes of growing heirloom crops and saving seed, and of eating from a table laden with 17th- and 18th-century foods. He shares his own history and his family's history, all of it tied up in gardening and sharing and caring. This lovely book is an extension that can reach into any garden being dug today. In other words, don't hesitate with this title, whether history, science, gardening, or a rich enthusiasm for constructive ways the individual can affect the future drives your interest. --Schuyler Ingle
From Library Journal
"The kitchen garden is the essential American garden," and "heirloom vegetables will never be safe from extinction unless we use them." These two statements from Weaver, a food historian and organic gardener, form the philosophical framework for his detailed treatise on vegetables from America's past. The history of the kitchen garden in America, the use of heirloom vegetables in today's gardens, and the heirloom seed-saving movement are a few of the topics covered, but most of this book is devoted to detailed profiles of approximately 280 heirloom vegetables. These profiles contain historical background, general growing and seed-saving information, and descriptions of specific heirloom varieties with an occasional old-fashioned recipe included. The section on tomatoes, for example, covers 20 different varieties, from the Acme to the Yellow Peach. A short appendix identifies commercial sources for seed and plant stock as well as some useful periodicals. The author's enthusiasm for and knowledge of his subject will inspire gardeners to begin including heirloom vegetables in their own yards. Highly recommended for libraries where there is an interest in heirloom gardening or gardening history.?John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., Ariz.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.