Here are ten heirloom vegetables (and fruits!) to look for (and buy!) at your local farmers market this summer.
What's been your favorite find at the farmers market this season? I'm enjoying sampling new varieties of mushrooms (Katahdin Oyster, specifically, a strain native to my state). Summer at the farmers market is the perfect time to try new flavors, textures, and colors of locally grown vegetables.
What is an heirloom vegetable?
First things first. What exactly is an heirloom vegetable?
Halcyon.com defines the term this way: "Experts in the field agree that heirloom vegetables are old, open-pollinated cultivars. In addition, these varieties also have a reputation for being high quality and easy to grow."
You may hear some folks refer to heirloom vegetables as heritage vegetables, but whatever you call them they're sure to be tastier than run-of-the-mill hybrid varieties.
10 Heirloom Vegetables (and a Couple of Fruits!) to Buy Now
heirloom tomatoes image via Shutterstock
While technically a fruit, no heirloom list is complete without it. In my opinion, one of the great joys in life is slicing into the first heirloom tomato of the season. And what makes this joy even greater is how many amazing choices there are for heirloom tomatoes.
Try Gold Medal tomatoes which are fist sized fruits with orange-red color, or Striped Germans which are large, late season tomatoes with a marbled yellow skin and sweet taste.
Also keep an eye out for Eva Purple Ball, Cherokee Purple, and Brandywine heirloom tomatoes.
photo of radishes via Shutterstock
For those of us in cooler climates, radishes are some of the first spring veggies to make an appearance at the farmers market. Thankfully, they hang around into the summer.
Early Scarlet Globe radishes are one inch diameter with striking bright red skin and white flesh. Also look for Champion, Purple Plum, and French Breakfast heirloom radishes.
photo of beans via Shutterstock
Rattlesnake snap beans are so named because of their dark purple streaked skin, which disappears when cooked. Fin de Bagnols, Kentucky Wonder Pole, and Turkey Craw heirloom beans are also worth trying.
photo of carrots via Shutterstock
It is most likely that you won't see carrots at the farmers market until later in the season, but keep your eyes peeled so that you're ready to snatch them up when they appear.
Try Dragon heirloom carrots which have a bright reddish-purple skin with yellow flesh. They have a sweet but slightly spicy flavor.
cucumbers image via Shutterstock
Another fruit on our list is the versatile cucumber. Japanese Climbing cucumbers will be available beginning in the summer and into the fall. They are tender, crisp, and tart. Also keep an eye out for Boothby's Blonde, Parisian Pickling, and White Wonder heirloom cucumbers.
heirloom potatoes image via Shutterstock
Like carrots, potatoes will make their first appearance later in the season. I'm partial to red varieties that add vibrant color to salads. Look for Mountain Rose heirloom potatoes that are medium sized with purple-red skin.
peppers image via Shutterstock
Another seasonal favorite fruit is the savory, crispy, and sweet pepper. Since I don't have a lot of luck growing my own peppers, I rely heavily on my local farmers to supply me. I love Antohi Romanian heirloom peppers because they're sweet and have an elongated shape.
Also try Sweet Chocolate, Orange Sun, and Gumdrop heirloom peppers.
Lettuce image via Shutterstock
It is sad that some folks consider lettuce to be boring. It most certainly isn't. Heirloom varieties can be spicy, colorful, and vibrant.
Deer's Tongue has either a red or green leaf. It looks like butterhead lettuce at its base but the top forms a rosette of leaves that are shaped like a deer's tongue. It has great flavor and its rib offers a satisfying crunch.
Also good are Big Boston and Cimmaron heirloom varieties.
Mushrooms image via Shutterstock
The only bad thing I can say about heirloom mushrooms is that sometimes their names are not as evocative as other heirloom vegetables.
Look for heirloom shiitake and portobellos.
summer squash image via Shutterstock
10. Summer squash
They may cook up divinely with garlic and onion, but squash (all varieties) are fruits. One of the qualities I love most about heirloom summer squash are the fantastic shapes they come in. Bennings Green Tint Scallop has a fun scallop shape as well as a light green color and tender flesh.
Also try Gelber Englischer Custard, Lebanese White Bush Marrow, and Odessa heirloom varieties.
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Top image of radishes via Shutterstock