Tastiest vegetable varieties

We’re all different, and our tastes vary wildly (thank God), but for what it’s worth, here’s a list of my all-time favorite vegetables, based not only what I like but what sells best at the farmstand and farmers’ market. I should say in advance that I get most of my seed from Johnny’s, the rest from Seed Savers’ Exchange, Seeds of Change, and a few others.

This entry is long, so pick and choose, and feel free to leave comments. It’s done, and I had to do it. Why? Who knows? It felt right. Taste is why we’re gardening.

Artichokes: It’s all good. A litle tricky to grow as an annual, but once you sit down and dip those leaves in butter, who cares what the variety is?

Asparagus:  See “Artichokes.” Just remember not to overcook these babies.

Beans, bush: “Blue Lake” — bush or pole, it doesn’t matter. Blue Lake is the best bean, tastier even than Kentucky wonder. Others are earlier, and the French filet beans are nice but a pain to pick. Pole beans you can pick longer than bush on one sowing, but they need support; bush beans don’t, and you can sow successive crops every two weeks. But who has the time for that?  It’s worth it.

Beans, Italian: Romano. Delicious flavor. “Smeraldo” is excellent, and there are others. Just try some of that Romano flavor in a wide, flat bean, bush or pole.

Beans, dry: “Yellow Eye,” for baked beans. Many others for soups and stews. Salt of the earth these are. Highly popular once, but under-used these days.

Beets:  “Red Ace,” Chiogga,” and “Touchstone Gold.”  Grow fast and wet, harvest small.

Broccoli: I’ve never tasted a poor variety of broccoli, although I’ve had poor crops due to soil (not fertile enough) and weather.  Pick an early, midseason, and late variety. “Gypsy” performs well in summer heat, “Arcadia” in the cold, and the open-pollinated “DeCicco” is renowned for producing a small head, and side heads all summer.

Brussels Sprouts:  If you like them, you like them. If not, not. “Nautic” is a nice variety, but there are others. They’re little cabbages, basically. Soak 15 minutes in cold, salted water,  remove wilted leaves, and cook covered until just tender, serving with butter or Hollandaise sauce.  And you thought you wouldn’t like Brussels Sprouts?

Cabbage is much like Broccoli in that it’s all good. I always grow both a red and green varieties, and try to pick the heads when relatively small. You might want to pick a winter storage variety to have nice cabbage in January-March.

Carrots:  My favorites are “Mokum” for a summer variety, and “Sugarsnax” for harvesting under a heavy layer of mulch in winter. I don’t grow the new colored varieties because they just don’t look like a carrot, and those who sell them at the farmers’ market say they look nice, but never sell out.

Cauliflower: It’s a tossup between “Fremont” (white, self-blanching) and “Cheddar” (slightly orange). Both are delicious, and both sell well. I’ve done so well with these, that I haven’t tried too many others.

Celery:  “Conquistador” is my favorite, but “Tango” is also good, some say better. But then again, celery, grown organically, is so much more flavorful than what you find at the store that it’s almost a different vegetable. Just get it out early and keep its shallow roots damp.

Corn?  “Silver Queen.” Period. It takes forever to ripen, but it’s so good, and has such a reputation, that I never come home from market with an ear. “Delectable” is a nice-tasting bicolor variety, and if you live north of 38 degrees latitude you can try the real early varieties, ripening in 70 days or so. I’ve dabbled in sugar-enhanced, and not been impressed. Sweet, yes. Corn flavor? No. But that’s me.

Cucumbers?  “Diva.” I haven’t seen it offered, or tried it, until recently, but you’re talking real flavor here, and no thick skin to peel. I still grow “Marketmore” and “Straight Eight” out of my long-term relationship with them, and the fact that “Straight Eight” still have prickles on the skin (gone from almost all cukes these days, but a fond memory for me). “General Lee” also earned my respect while gardening in Tennessee. This year I’m trying lemon cukes. We’ll see.

Eggplant.  This vegetable (Janet used to tell me) absorbs the flavor of that which it’s cooked with, with little inherent flavor of it’s own, and I pretty much agree (you didn’t argue with Bride about food). Texture, yes. Flavor? Well….“Orient Express,” long instead of blocky in the Japanese tradition, is excellent, and a good seller, but the traditional dark purple varieties are also good.  All I can say about flavor is to quote a few seed catalogues:  “Nice subtle flavor,” said one, and “delicately flavored,” stated another. Meaning Janet was right. The strange-looking varieties I haven’t tried, for the same reason I don’t grow strange-looking anythings.(I’m an old fart.)

Garlic is like celery: the difference between organic and “conventional” is the difference between Chateau Neuf dePape and Ripple.

Greens:  Jeez you can’t go wrong here. Just pick early, midsummer (slow-bolting) and late season varieties. My favorites, in a mesclun mix for ourselves and the market, included: Arugula, Tatsoi, Mizuna, Dill, mustard greens (not too many), Black-seeded Simpson  lettuce (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite), Red sails lettuce, along with some Romaine (slow-bolting and crispy), butterhead, summer crisp and iceberg (which I grow not for heads (which don’t sell well, and which I don’t need much of  in the kitchen) but to harvest as babies for the mesclun mix.

Kale :“Red Russian” and “Toscano,” the latter on my friend Eliot Coleman’s advice. Both are nice, but I still favor Red Russian. Sorry, Eliot.

Kohlrabi:  I like the green (white, they call them sometimes) varieties. Sweet taste, weird looking, and nobody knows how to eat them. You can eat slices raw in salads (a nice, subtle flavor, but crisp texture), or peel and boil in salted water until tender and season with salt, pepper, and butter.  It’s an unusual flavor, almost like mild parsnips, and worth a whack.

Leeks: Again, they all work. The flavor is mild onion-like, and sauteed they’re excellent. Or, broiled and sprinkled with cheese. It’s a side dish, and wonderfully delicate.

Melons: I hesitate to weigh in on melons because there are so many types and varieties within those types. However our standby is a Crenshaw menon called “Lilly.” Once somebody has tastede it at the market (we offer samples), they most always buy.

Onions: This sounds nuts, but one of the reasons I wanted to move back to New England is to grow “Walla-Walla” sweet onions. We used to grow thousands and sell every one. This is a long-day onion that will only bulb up in areas north of about 36 degrees latitude. In Tenessee we grew “Yellow Granex,” which is the same variety as the famed Videlia onion, but has (for me) a sharper taste than those grown in Viedlia, Geiorgia. “Alisa Craig” is another nice, sweet, long-day onion. It’s an English favorite.

Peas: “Sugar Snap” is the only one I grow. I’ve tried going back to the shelling types, and tried the other new snap varieties, but still favor “Sugar Snap,” for taste.

Peppers:  My favorites for flavor are “Jimmy Nardello” (or just Nardello) and “Carmen.” Both are elongated, bull-horn types. For blocky peppers that so many prefer, I grow “Yankee Bell.” The only hot pepper I grow is called “Delicias.” I has little pungency, but a real chile taste, and is absolutely delicious flavor.

Potatoes: I don’t grow potatoes anymore because they’re too heavy and hard to handle (hilling up, cleaning, packing), for the money you get. But I do know that home-grown potatoes are far better than those in the store.

Summer squash: Three favorites for pure flavor – “Zephyr, Sunburst pattypan, and Magda,” a cousa type favored in the Mediteranean.

Winter squash: There are many great ones out there, but my favorite for decades has been “Waltham Butternut.”

Tomatoes: Okay, here’s dangerous territory because it’s so personal, but going strictly by flavor and what sells best, I’d have to rank the top three as “Brandywine, Prudens Purple, and Cherokee Purple.”  Right next to them I’d put “Hillbill Potato Leaf” and “Italian Heirloom” (that’s the name, from Seed Saver’s). For a cherry tomato, it’s “Sun Gold.” For a plum tomato, “San Marzano,” and for the best tasting early tomato I like “Moskvich.”

There, I did it. Now to get back off this limb.

Turnips: “Hakurei,” hands down for a delicate, sweet flavor.

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About lifegrower

Peter V. Fossel has been gardening since he was nine, and has been an organic farmer for the last 20 years. His most recent book, “Organic Farming, Everything You Need to know” was published by Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, 2007. He’s written numerous gardening articles for Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Country Journal, Out Here, and American Profile among others. He was Gardens Manager for The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee before returning to Cape Cod to start his newest organic venture, Swan River Farm in Dennisport, MA.
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