A gray-bearded man in the audience stood up and asked me, “If you could only pick three edible plants to grow, what would they be?”
I was speechless for the longest two minutes of my life, as I pondered what would I grow if I had to buy everything else at a grocery store. Finally, I haltingly replied, “Pineapple tomato, Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper and Ashmead’s Kernel apple. No, make that Chojuro Asian pear. The apple needs another tree to pollinate it.”
No tomato can come close to the fruity flavors of the two-pound Pineapple yellow and tangerine beefsteak; nor, can you equal or surpass the crisp, sweet, red thin flesh of the heirloom pepper. And, Chojuro’s aromatic butterscotch flavor and crunch cannot be found in any other Asian pear.
You'll never find Chojuro Asian pear in any store. That's why I grow it!
During the last few weeks, I’ve spoken before a number of groups in four states about gardening. The man’s question was the first time I’ve been so taken aback and stumped. Only three edibles? What an impossible choice! Curious as what others would reply, I put the same question to a group of friends who are garden writers, nursery owners and plant producers.
Many of their responses were geographic, what grows well in their climate. Others were totally unique, like Boston resident Hilda Morrill’s. “I was born in Puerto Rico and learned to garden from my maternal grandmother, so my choices are bananas, avocados and pineapples!”
Homegrown vegetables have no equal, and many cultivars are not available commerically. That's why the people I interviewed picked their favorites, even though I limited them to only three!
Another East Coast gardener, C.L. Fornari who lives on Cape Cod picks Sungold tomatoes, Rainbow chard and Maxibel haricot verts (bush beans). The tomatoes don’t make it into the house, she says. “Rainbow chard is beautiful, you can harvest it from mid-summer to hard frost and use it as a wrap,” C.L. says. “I roll it up with goat cheese, fasten with tooth picks, brush with olive oil and throw it on the barbeque.
Denise Schreiber of Pittsburgh, author of “Eat Your Roses”, selects Delicious tomato, Yukon Gold potatoes (for their buttery flavor) and any old-fashioned watermelon with sweet syrup that runs down my chin, she adds.
In Bowling Green, Ohio, British transplant and radio show host, Kate Copsey likes Black Prince tomato for its great taste, Anaheim peppers that are moderately hot and good producers and Russian Blue kale that can be picked throughout the winter.
Cathy Wilkinson Barash, in Iowa's heartland, votes for edibles that are long-lasting or easily “put up” for future eating. She plants Jacob’s Cattle beans, Waltham butternut squash and Purple Cherokee tomato.
Brandywine is the tomato by which all others are measured. And, you don't find it at the store.
Notice a Tomato Trend?
As Texas folksinger Guy Clark puts it, “There are two things in this world money can’t buy, true love and homegrown tomatoes”, quotes Teri Dunn Chace of Little Falls, New York. Brandywine tops her three picks, along with Genovese basil and Sugar Ann sugar snap peas.
Heading to the West Coast, Rose Marie Nichols-McGee in Corvallis, OR likes the new blue-skinned Indigo Rose tomato, Wild Garden Mix kale and Katie’s Sweetmeat Winter squash. Another kale lover is Tanya Kucak in Palo Alto, Calif. She picks the perennial version of it, Tree Collards, along with Tommy Toes tomato and La Vigneronne pole beans. Her neighbor, Gerald Burke, who spent 25 years in the seed business, chooses Black Seeded Simpson leaf lettuce, Cherry tomato and Danvers Half Long carrot.
Ros Creasy in Los Altos, Calif. is widely known for pioneering the edible landscape. It was difficult for her to narrow down choices to just three. But, she managed, based on superb flavor: Sun Gold tomato, the original Sugarsnap edible-podded pea and Berkley blueberry.
You’ve read the experts’ choices. Now tell me what your three picks are.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.