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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Heritage Gardening

We all mostly plant what we eat and we try the most popular or dependable varieties. But in my garden, there are three plantings that have a special significance to me.

1. Fish Peppers
This is a look at three of my fish pepper plants. I have seven in all. As soon as I read the history behind this heirloom, I knew that I had to plant it. I don't even care much for hot peppers. I am not even sure I can eat a pepper any hotter than a jalepeno; which this pepper is supposed to be. That matters not, because this pepper has a special significance to me. This pepper is an African-American heirloom that predates the 1870s. In the late 1800s, the Fish Pepper was widely grown in the Philadelphia and Baltimore area. Being an African American, I almost felt an obligation to grow this plant; just because so much of our history is lost/unwritten.
It is an added bonus that these plants are beautiful. The foliage is variegated with green and white. The peppers are variegated too. The peppers range from a cream color with green stripes to oranges, browns, and eventually red. Historically it was used to make salsas. I'll also use it to make hot sauce.
Even if you aren't African American, I think you would still enjoy growing this pepper for its sheer beauty. I have a few baby peppers and their uniqueness is already evident.
2. Cherokee Trail of Tears
According to my family's verbal tradition, my great-great grandmother was a Cherokee woman. At this point, I probably don't have much Cherokee in me, but the Cherokee's are still significant to me nonetheless. The Cherokee Trail of Tears bean is a black bean that was said to have traveled with the Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears - a forced relocation West to Oklahoma. A trail in which 4000 Cherokee was said to have died. Much like the middle passage that Africans suffered while being forceably brought to America.
3. Aunt Lou's Underground Railroad Tomato
I just found this tomato and snatched up seeds as soon as I did. Therefore, it won't be planted until my fall garden, but I am already excited about it. There is so little that we know about our ancestors during and before slavery. All we know, is that odds are, they were a slave. This tomato traveled the Underground Railroad from Kentucky to Ripley, OH. After arrival, the tomatoes were grown at Rankin House (a well-known stop on the UR and now a museum). The seeds were shared with a lady named Lou. Her nephew later shared the seeds with Ellis' Feed Mill who called them Aunt Lou's tomato. In 2010, the name was changed to reflect its history of having come to Ohio via the Underground Railroad. No word on how these look or taste yet; but I'll let you know this fall :).
These three hierlooms will always have a place in my garden. I look forward to the day that I will share their history with my children; they can take them to school for show and tell; and they can even grow them themselves in their own gardens.
Do you have any heritage plantings or any plantings that have significance beyond taste and dependability?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post! I can't wait to hear how the Aunt Lou's Underground Railroad Tomatoes grow. I think I would like growing those since they have such a great history. :)

    As you saw in my post about heirloom varieties, I am growing Mississippi Cream peas because they are part of my husband's family heritage. I have even asked my mother-in-law to contact Aunt Anne to see if she happens to have any seeds in her freezer. (She can't garden any more, and none of her children are interested in gardening at all, much less saving the seed.) Fingers crossed that I can get some of her actual seed to try to save. :)