I just spent the day visiting Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at Bakersville in southern Missouri. It’s only a few hours drive from my home and all these years have gone by without a visit from myself.
I’m a relative newby to gardening all things told, so hearing about this place 10 years ago didn’t mean much to me at the time. About 3 years ago I really started to take an interest in heirloom seeds, the safety of our food source and really getting into the whole eco-friendly scene. It’s been one of my better choices in life!
The first Sunday in April is one of their bigger events (every first Sunday IS an event there), and I was determined to make it this year. So with a less than pleasant weather forecast away I went. It’s a nice drive up Highway 5 North toward Ava, Mansfield and on to what is now known as “Bakersville”. Most of the way is paved… the last mile or so is gravel and scenic with bucolic farms set on a hillside underlined with small meandering creeks.
For me the main draw was seeing the seed store. I couldn’t quite imagine thousands of varieties in one place, the magnitude of keeping order to that many small items. The seed store is in fact one of the largest buildings. Inside there are floor to top of your head shelves filled to capacity with all the seeds I’ve see in the catalog! I wanted one of everything! Between having plenty of seeds left over from last year, sharing with a couple friends and already placing a small order I really put some effort into not overdoing it. I did purchase packets of slow bolt cilantro (never can have too much), Ping Tung eggplant from Taiwan, ground cherries, and Red Malabar spinach.
Now if anything previously mentioned sounds mysterious to you I’ll explain.
Ground cherries are those tiny little green tomato-like sprits related to tomatillos, which are commonly used in Mexican cooking. Ground cheeries are also used in pies, jams and preserves. The first time I encountered these little delicacies was last fall in my Aunt Zomas’ garden. She had 2 plants and enough ground cherries to feed a church hall full of hungry Mennonites (no slander intended, she was Mennonite, at the end anyway). They are golf ball sized and are covered in a papery husk and quite tart. Maybe I will try a jam…
The Red Malabar spinach is hardy and prolific. It’s not a real spinach being a vine with beautifulheart shaped leaves on it, and prefers the heat of summer. Nice spinach- like greens all year even after the regular spinach has bolted. I made some creamed spinach soup with it and the flavor wasn’t quite as tender as I like, but with plenty of 1/2 and 1/2 or cream added it was quite fine.
Cilantro is another cool weather crop/herb, well known in Mexican cooking but also Chinese, Thai and Indian. It will self seed if you get a good patch going and needs to be planted early early spring, harvest as you need it and go to seed in the heat. If the plants get large enough you can then harvest a batch of the seeds known as coriander. Coriander is a whole different seasoning. I like both. By the way, this year for the first time there is actually cilantro coming up all over the place and I may have to delete some of it!
The Ping Tung eggplant just intrigued me. I want to like eggplant and have slowly been cultivating a relationship with it. Last summer I made and enjoyed Baba Ganoush for the first time, a delicious spicy eggplant dip with Middle Eastern roots. The Ping Tung is a purple eggplant from Taiwan. It’s about 2 inches around by 18 inches long and supposedly very tender and sweet. I hear some of you asking, “Aren’t all eggplants purple?” They come in several colors which leads me to a short discussion on tomatoes.
Baker Creek carries hundreds of varieties of tomatoes in 7 colors plus striped ones! Some of my favories are Black Krims, and Black Prince (both purples), Arkansas Traveller (a pink and a real favorite here in, guess where? Arkansas!), Thessaloniki (red), and yellow pear. Colors also include orange, green, white and various stripped.
I’m kinda partial to Celebrity which is a good workhorse tomato for this part of the country but I’m not sure it’s heirloom or organic. I’ll do some research on that one.
At Baker Creek there are several newly built historic looking buildings creating an old time town with theme dressed workers, and beans and cornbread on the menu. I’m looking forward to my next visit in May when the restaurant should be open, the menu focusing on heirlooms and locally produced foods.
Visit Baker Creek heirloom Seeds online at rareseeds.com .
The day would have been less hurried if the wind hadn’t been gusting at 40 miles per hour and snowflakes flying! The watercress sandwich on multigrain bread and butter was tasty and I bought myself a Cobrahead! Can’t wait to try it out in the garden! You can google it or get one online at rareseeds.