It’s no secret that a key to memorable food is using fresh ingredients at the height of season. Whether this is preached by a popular chef or learned firsthand in the garden, there’s no denying the vibrance. The summer tomato is inarguably our poster-child for the fresh food we crave. As farmers know, shortening the time from plant to plate can mean the difference in a sweet, buttery pea …. and a starchy pile of mush that creates a kid-and-parent-standoff you both remember with disgust for years to come. The best taste test can convert the curious into lifelong gardeners, who are lucky to have the freshest at their fingertips.
So then, if fresh is best, what about a thirty-year-old bean? So far, it has created the happiest meal for me this week. Never fear — it was a perfectly preserved heirloom seed that produced a tall teepee of gigantic ‘Christmas’ lima beans. We talk a lot about heirlooms and heritage in the food and farming world these days—it’s nothing new (har har). It recently became very personal to me, though, as I happened upon a pillowcase of seeds more than 30 years old, saved by my husband’s grandfather. When he was alive, his garden boasted rows of corn, beans, tomatoes and sprawling patches of birdhouse gourds. Now that I’m consumed with cooking my own homegrown food, I’ve sought every source imaginable for colorful stories and any remnants of how it was done by generations before me. Did I get my love of Lady peas from my grandmother, just as I believe I inherited her zeal for mayhaw jelly? Did Grampa grow way too many varieties of tomatoes, as I do? Did they plant by the moon or have a trick for the sweetest, biggest watermelon? My husband, David, has grown a garden of his own for many years, reliving moments shared with his elders that were atypical of his suburban childhood. You can imagine our collection of seeds—from family, rural co-op stores, catalogs, passalong packets, and gems from organizations such as