Experts weigh in with the vegetables they liked best from this summer’s harvest.
WHEN WE’RE daydreaming over seed catalogs, it’s one big guess as to which plants will delight and which will disappoint. But now, when we can pick, taste and cook with the vegetables we’ve grown, is the time to evaluate which ones deserve the soil and garden space they take up.
Pacific NW Magazine: Week of Sept. 19
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So which varieties are the experts enthusing over this harvest season?
• Jo Robinson, author of “Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health,” is growing plenty of ‘French Fingerling’ potatoes.
“They’re going gangbusters,” she says of the potatoes she describes as disease-resistant, delicious and more nutritious than most others. Robinson also praises ‘Astro’, a slow-to-bolt arugula with a relatively mild flavor. “Red lettuces have more phytonutrients than most lettuces, but they can be bitter or quick to go to seed,” says Robinson. But not ‘Red Fire’, which she has found flavorful and long-lasting in her Vashon Island garden.
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• Author-gardener Amy Pennington is enthused about ‘Kabouli Black’ garbanzo beans. Pennington is an accomplished cook who harvests these garbanzos when they’re young and green, and treats them like shelling peas in recipes. Or you can leave them on the plant until the pods dry and the beans turn black. She describes Mexican Sour Gherkins as “a speckled, oval-shaped, mini cucumber … adorable and tasty.” Her favorite lettuce? ‘Strela Green’, which she sows from April through July to add texture and interest to salads.
• Sarah Geurkink manages the University of Washington farm, and this is the first year the students have been growing radicchio regularly. She praises the variety ‘Leonardo’ for its beauty and how delicious it tastes when grilled. And she’s amazed by the cherry tomato ‘Lemon Drop’, which has proved vigorous, productive, delicious and disease-resistant.
• For more tomato talk, I turned to Marcia Dillon, who grows 80 varieties in her work as tomato bed manager at the Master Gardeners’ Demonstration Garden in Bellevue.
“In addition to the reliable standbys that I always plant — ‘Sungold’ and ‘Juliet’ — I’ve been very pleased with the recently introduced Tiger Series,” she says. ‘Green Tiger’ won the Demonstration Garden’s tomato tasting last year. Want a larger tomato? Dillon says ‘Black Sea Man’ is an heirloom that is early-ripening and great-tasting.
• Colin McCrate, farmer, teacher, designer, author and founder of Seattle Urban Farm Company, is constantly assessing vegetable varieties for his clients — chefs as well as homeowners. He ranks ‘Costata Romanesco’ zucchini as the best-performing, healthiest heirloom zucchini.
“It’s super-productive; healthy; and has a good, nutty taste,” he says. Of ‘Nelson’ carrots, he says, “We’re planting them everywhere; they were everyone’s favorite last season.”
Here’s a short list of varieties McCrate calls out:
• ‘Calliope’ eggplant: a beautiful, Asian-style eggplant that produces really well in our climate.
• ‘Padron’ pepper: Every chef’s favorite variety, this produces an impressive yield of sweet/hot peppers perfect for grilling or roasting whole.
• ‘Happy Rich’ broccoli: a sprouting broccoli that produces plentiful, nicely sized and great-tasting florets.
• ‘Coastal Star’ Romaine lettuce: It’s a workhorse variety, adapted to a wide range of conditions, so works for spring, summer and fall plantings.
• ‘Rainbow Lacinato’ kale: A cross of ‘Lacinato’ and ‘Redbor’, this kale is beautiful, productive and hardy enough to winter over in the Northwest.
Next winter, when you’re wading through all the possibilities in those seductive seed catalogs, keep in mind which vegetables drew raves from savvy gardeners this year.