Friday, March 2, 2018

I Just Can't Stop - More Seeds for 2018!

Oh, I just couldn't stop myself. For a veggie gardener like myself who grows veggies because I like to EAT them and they must be delicious for me to grow them more than once this pitch from a new seed company was irresistible.
We are a seed company grounded in the notion that deliciousness might just change the world. A seed company built by chefs and breeders striving to make ingredients taste better before they ever hit a plate.
That's the opening paragraph from Row 7 Seed's Our Story. Oh what a fabulous idea. Breed vegetables first and foremost for flavor. It's no wonder to me that so many people don't like vegetables when what's offered in the vegetable morgue called the produce section of the supermarket typically don't have much flavor. Even when you grow your own veggies odds are that the varieties offered by large seed companies are bred for commercial growers who require uniformity, shelf life, yield, perfect looks, ease of harvest, and disease and pest resistance over flavor.

I am such a sucker for such a pitch and that's why 5 of the 7 varieties that they are initially offering are soon to be mine.

So, here's what's coming. All photos and descriptions are lifted from their website.

Badger Flame Beet

Badger Flame Beet
Badger Flame Beet
I happen to love beets and the typical earthiness doesn't put me off but apparently it does a lot of people and that's the problem that the breeder tackled in this beet.

This striking, flame-colored beet is the brainchild of breeder Irwin Goldman. 
Irwin is brilliant. In many ways, he thinks like a chef, and he’s passionate about focusing people’s attention on the characteristics in vegetables that typically go unnoticed. In this case, he wanted to create a visually striking beet, one with a vibrant orange-yellow interior and cylindrical shape. But he also wanted to take on the beet’s dirty reputation—the earthy flavor that many blame for their beet aversion. It turns out, this signature earthiness is caused by geosmin, an organic compound produced primarily by microbes in the soil, but also by certain plants. Irwin's lab has spent years searching for the genes that produce this earthiness, and, in doing so, they discovered how to change the beet's flavor.
Led by Irwin and technician Nick Breitbach, their team selected the Badger Flame over several years, combining laboratory analysis with old-school techniques (read: eating beets raw in the field). The result? A beet that is mild and sweet, and delicious raw. 
Our Badger Flames’ story continued in the fields of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, where Farm Director Jack Algiere has been trialling the beets for several years. His participatory breeding work—studiously selecting the best roots from each crop in tandem with seedsman Matthew Goldfarb— helps to improve our stock seed, year after year. 

7082 Cucumber
7082 Cucumber
Aren't cucumbers supposed to be blah? Maybe not.
Named for its trial plot, the 7082 cucumber is a stubbled green slicer of modest stature but memorable flavor—which, when it comes to cucumbers, is no small feat.
Breeder Michael Mazourek recalls stories of long-forgotten cucumbers that filled a room with their fragrance. Today, he is working to rediscover them, marrying heirloom flavors with modern disease resistance in the field.
For Mazourek, the search for a truly delicious cucumber begins with exploring the bitter compounds that have been selected against for decades. It turns out a little bitterness goes a long way in adding complexity and depth of flavor—a kind of vegetable diplomacy. And it goes a long way in the field, too, helping to deter pests for organic growers. 
898 Squash
898 Squash
I've grown Honeynut Butternut squash a couple of times and my only complaint about it is that it didn't store as well as I would have liked. This is supposed to be an improvement on Honeynut with a thicker skin and longer storage capacity.
It’s been almost eight years since Chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill stood in the kitchen with vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek and asked him (half-jokingly) if he could breed a butternut squash to actually taste good. Since chefs and home cooks often struggle to eek out flavor from this workaday squash—reaching for maple syrup or honey to do the trick—he thought it was a fair question. Mazourek's answer? It was the first time anyone had asked him to breed for flavor.
That conversation launched a little squash called the Honeynut (now available coast to coast)—and our own little seed company. But Mazourek never sees his work as finished. Together, he and Dan started to ask: how can we one-up the Honeynut?
Noticing that the Honeynut’s thin skin caused it to go downhill in storage after November, Mazourek continued to tinker, selecting for outstanding flavor along the way. 
Still in the experimental phase, the 898 squash is the delicious result: a longer-storing, even-more-mini butternut packed with flavor and nutrition. With candy-like Brix measurements that can reach 15+, it’s sweet enough for dessert, and one serving contains more than double the Recommended Dietary Allowance of Vitamin A. 
Koginut Squash
Robin's Koginut Squash
Hmm, I wonder what the parents are for this baby. Butternut is to be presumed but what's the other one?
This little pumpkin speaks to the power of pedigree. Developed by Michael Mazourek, it’s a cross between two squash varieties prized by cooks. With such distinguished parents, it’s no surprise that Robin’s Koginut stands out on the plate, with a flavor that’s sweet, intensely squash-y and totally delicious.
Even better, Robin’s Koginut has a built-in ripeness indicator. Fruit turn from green to bronze on the vine, so farmers know exactly when to pick for peak flavor and nutrition. (Could vine-ripened squash be the new vine-ripened tomato?)
Robin’s Koginut was named in memory of our friend Robin Ostfeld, a collaborator on the project and guru of organic farming in the Finger Lakes who had always wanted to name a new variety. 
Upstate Abundance Potato
Upstate Abundance Potato
I just couldn't not put it in the basket.
Second-generation potato breeder Walter De Jong knows a winning potato when he sees one. Which is why, when he first spotted trial “NY150” among his field plots in 2004, he immediately took note. Walter’s goal at the the time was to breed a more resilient potato—high yielding and attractive in the field, and resistant to diseases plaguing potato growers in the Northeast, such as Potato Virus Y (PVY) and late blight.
Walking the rows, Walter was surprised to discover one experimental line that yielded an unexpected bonus: an abundance of golf-ball-sized potatoes with bright white flesh. By conventional market standards at the time, they were a little too small, but Walter and field manager Matt Falise thought that NY150 was something worth pursuing—a suspicion confirmed when they first tasted it.
Over the years, still deemed “unmarketable,” NY150 earned a quiet cult following, first within Walter’s lab, and then beyond. Growers praised its uncommon size (naturally small, even at normal seed spacing), and cooks coveted its exceptionally creamy texture and nutty flavor. 
Ready for a national stage, the recently named “Upstate Abundance” remains Walter and Matt’s favorite eating potato. And just recently, Walter learned something new about his beloved potato: its lineage includes a variety developed by Walter’s father, a retired potato breeder himself. How’s that for prized pedigree? 

Here's some further reading about Row 7 Seeds, read at your own risk if you are a seed/veggie addict.

Civil Eats - Dan Barber’s Seed Company Seeks to Sow the ‘Democratization of Flavor’
New York Times - Seeds Only a Plant Breeder Could Love, Until Now
Washington Post - Is ‘seed to table’ the next big food trend? One top chef hopes so.
Forbes - What Dan Barber Is Cooking Up Next: A Seed Company That Puts Flavor First


13 comments:

  1. You and me both. So many things I want to try.

    What other reason is there to plant your own seeds than good taste? And one has to be very vigilant not to fall for some of the things in the catalogs that promise earliness or disease resistance or easy picking. This looks very promising.

    Thanks for the links. I'll read them next. There's some welcome rain outside, just a little, but enough to keep me inside.

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    1. Oh, and I forgot to say that I agree with you about supermarket vegetables. When I have to eat them, I think it is no wonder people don't like eating vegetables. Who wants cardboard taste?

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    2. If I could buy veggies as good and as varied as what I grow I might be tempted to abandon growing my own. But alas, I can't buy anything to compare so I will continue to fight critters, diseases, bugs, weather, and my own ineptitude and slog on and enjoy every hard earned delicious and nutritious bite.

      The latest storm has delivered from 1.5 to 5 inches locally and more is falling now.

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  2. Oh great, another seed company to check out - you know how us seed junkies are! I'm wondering if the squash is a cross between a butternut and another moschata, or something else like a Sweet Dumpling. Maybe Day will chime in with an idea since she's into the genetics of such things. And is that a grilled cucumber? Why haven't I tried that?!?

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    1. Yeah, grilled cucumber! It looks and sounds fabulous and the recipe is on their website...

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    2. Well, I had to order the cucumber...and the beets...and the Koginut squash. The cuke is suitable for the greenhouse which is a big plus for me.

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    3. I feel like an enabler, a seed junkie supporter! But it is going to be interesting to compare notes.

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  3. Those beets sound really interesting. I wonder whether they have a similar thing here in the UK.

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    1. It sounds like a unique breeding experiment so perhaps they are one-of-a-kind.

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  4. Oh. How delicious. I am off to have a look my self. I too love the idea of breeding for flavour. Veg sometimes taste as if it is of secondary priority.

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    1. More often than not I think that flavor has a very low priority for vegetable breeders. Such a shame. I hope this company can capitalize on veggies with flavor.

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  5. Here, here! It really should be all about the taste, shouldn't it? I've dropped many tomato varieties that bore abundantly, but were meh in the taste department - but then there were those that are here to stay even though they only gave me a few delicious fruits - emphasis on "delicious"! Looking forward to hearing if your evaluation of these varieties at seasons end.

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    1. It will be interesting to see how those flavors do in different gardens. Speaking of tomatoes, I can get Brandywine tomatoes to grow here but they have no flavor, but in a different climate they are delicious. I think it takes heat for them to develop their vaunted flavor. So the proof is in the growing.

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