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Heirlooms Worth Keeping

It’s been a very busy week, food wise. I’ve been to the Good Food & Wine Show in Brisbane, cuddled up to George Columbaris and Ainsley Harriot at a meet and greet event, enjoyed a meal with my brothers at Satay Ria in Cannon Hill and went to an Elderton Winemaker’s Dinner at the Sofitel.  In amongst all of this I strived for some balance by signing up to an Heirloom Vegetable Workshop called ‘Heirlooms & Happiness’ run by Linda from Ecobotanica.

An enthusiastic welcome from Linda

There was still a little indulgence involved as the workshop was held at Martin Duncan’s Freestyle Tout.  For those of you not lucky enough to live in Brisbane, Freestyle Tout is a dessert cafe with a well deserved reputation for quality and extravagance.  Oh goodie – two of my favourite things!   On this particular afternoon I joined seven other participants to learn more about Heirloom seeds and vegetables.

Linda spent some time giving us a potted history of modern plant breeding and hybridisation that started in the early 1950’s, just after the second world war.  Whilst the original intentions of this experimentation was to make sure that there was an adequate food supply for a booming post war world population, the ensuing decades have brought us to the most maligned example of hybrids – the tasteless supermarket tomato.  Some Heirloom seed varieties can be traced back thousands of years.  One of the seeds we looked at were Aztec Corn kernels which look not dissimilar to the nearly 2000 year old corn kernels found in the graves at Chauchilla Cemetry near Nazca in Peru.

3rd Millennium Corn
1st Millennium Corn

Heirloom seeds are non hybrid varieties. (It is important to note that just because plant A and B are bred to make plant C, it does not mean that they are GMO.  That’s an entirely different kettle of gene splicing).  The seeds are selected from the best plants and fruits from each season to maintain strong characteristics such as tolerance to drought, flood and disease and to provide us with our old friend, flavour!

Freestyle Tout Lemon Meringue

After a fun quiz on ‘vegetables through the ages’, where I was lucky enough to win a prize, it was time to enjoy afternoon tea ala Freestyle.  Whilst we gobbled up our Lemon Meringue Pies and Fresh Strawberry Icecream, Linda explained where we could source Heirloom seeds and gave up a few tips on propagating from seed.  We also heard about ‘open’ and ‘closed’ pollination. (Heirlooms are usually open pollinated cultivars).  This simply means that when the seed grows, it tastes just like the parent plant.  To ensure this strong lineage continues, it is important to ensure that plants are not cross pollinated by non Heirloom varieties.  Typically this would happen by wind or insect cross pollination resulting in contamination.

Our next session had us around the table whilst Linda pointed out various varieties of leaves and flowers she had picked from her garden that morning.   Both the Madagascar Bean and the Purple King Runner bean reminded me of vegetables I had seen in the old kitchen gardens of National Trust properties in the UK.

Madagascar Bean
Beans from Attingham Park, Shrewsbury UK

We tasted and discussed their flavours and uses before doing a ‘name that seed’ quiz.  Finally, we learned how to make simple newspaper pots to germinate seedlings in.  This is a great cost saving tip for keen gardeners and also helps to give newspapers another life.

Newspaper pot
Can you name seed #7?

Linda is a qualified in many aspects of agriculture and horticulture and has a  wealth of expertise in organics and permaculture.  She runs a range of workshops (the next on stingless bees) and her style is relaxed and nurturing, providing the perfect environment for budding home gardeners and farmers.

Nicked from a kitchen garden in the UK

In the past I have had no luck growing eggplants and Linda was happy to talk me through ideas about why the flowers wouldn’t set.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the afternoon but I learned so much and was buoyed enough to have yet another go at growing eggplants. There were some seeds available on the day to purchase as well as a few seedlings that Linda had grown but really, the point of the afternoon was to come together, learn about Heirlooms, share some knowledge and have a bit of fun.  I certainly did.

Linda Brennan
growing natural solutions
Ph: 07 3349 2962

3 comments… add one
  • Jan Rhoades November 14, 2012, 7:52 am

    Hi. Lots of connections here. Linda is the mum of Imogen who went to high school with Edward (often seen on ABC TV). And I have madagascar beans growing on my front fence. Spectacular dried and yummy eaten fresh. You didn't invite me 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Lizzy (Good things) November 15, 2012, 11:24 am

    Thanks Fiona for this fascinating wrap up on a very interesting topic! Looking forward to meeting you.

  • Anonymous November 16, 2012, 3:10 pm

    Such a great idea, cultivating and keeping the heritage produce alive (no pun intended). I mean, how exciting was it to see purple carrots first appear in the stores? Thanks for the post, it was a great read! *waves to Jan*


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