Who says tomatoes have to be red, or corn yellow? Is there a law against purple carrots? There better not be, because I just planted Cosmic Purples. Atomic Reds, too. And why not? Though hybrid vegetables tend to be sturdy, disease-resistant and uniformly tasty, heirlooms have been cultivated for hundreds, even thousands of years and have developed unique forms, flavors and colors that are both delicious and totally fun.
This year, be daring. Try a few exciting heirlooms. I promise I won’t rat you out.
Tomato: Cherokee Purple
Cherokee Purples are a very popular type of beefsteak tomato, which means they’re big and juicy. Cherokees have a unique smoky flavor, but their real draw is their coloring: green and purple on the outside, purplish-red on the inside. They’re easy to find and easy to grow, and look amazing in salads. Not into big tomatoes? Try Black Pear, which are about half the size and grow on smaller, more container-friendly plants.
Eggplant: Violetta di Firenze
Eggplant heirlooms come in all kinds of shapes and colors, so get out there and find one that suits your taste. But don’t forget its looks! Violetta di Firenze is a gorgeous lavender and white streaked fruit with a thin skin that you don’t need to peel off. Give it plenty of heat for the best flavor, and display it prominently to freak out your neighbors.
Watermelon: Moon and Stars
These big, juicy, sweet and rich fruits have yellow-freckled skin that makes them look like they’re covered in tiny stars, with one or two larger yellow “moons.” They can grow up to 20 pounds, and will sprawl all over the garden, so give them lots of space to explore their universe.
Pepper: Aji Límo
To be honest, I had trouble picking the coolest, hottest pepper. There are endless choices out there, each unique, attractive and totally worth growing. Aji Límo is my pick of the moment because of its bright yellow color and fruity, citrusy flavor that doesn’t skimp on spice. Amazing in salsa and with a history going back to 400 B.C., this one is a standout in a crowded field.
Corn: Cherokee Long Ear
You may know it as Indian Corn, and you’ve probably seen the dried cobs used as festive autumn decorations. And they are decorative, showing up with blue, red, purple, orange, yellow, white and even black kernels. But the true magic of Cherokee Long Ear is a secret that you can only release by popping it. You’ll never taste popcorn the same way again.
Potato: Purple Majesty / All Red
A tie, and really you should grow both. Why? Because they’re purple and pink! Purple Majesties taste a lot like Russets, and are absolutely silly mashed. All Reds have a more delicate pink-swirled flesh, and are excellent roasted like Yukons. For total ridiculousness, make oven fries.
Want more? Try these 7 Outrageously Colored Heirlooms.
image: Clay Irving