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Bi-Coloured Tomatoes & the "Pitfalls" of Heirlooms

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Bi-Coloured Tomatoes & the "Pitfalls" of Heirlooms
    Posted: 20 January 2015 at 23:05
From Brook (HistoricFoodie):

Quote Tracing the migration of bi-colored tomatoes actually is a simple matter....

Eastern Kentucky is now covered up with bi-colored tomatoes. We know that bi-colors are, primarily, of Germanic origin. And we know there was no German settlement of eastern Kentucky. So the question arises: where did those bi-colors come from?
 
Until the last third of the 20th century, eastern Kentucky was isolated. So much so that most intercourse took place between there and West Virginia, rather than there and central Kentucky.  If you do any research at all re: the Hatfield/McCoy thing, you'll see how it took place back and forth along the Kentucky/West Virginia border.
 
West Virginia had several waves of German immigration, starting in the 18th century. 
 
Put all that together, and it's obvious that seed for those bi-colors migrated westward from West Virginia to eastern Kentucky.
 
Simple! Emoji
 
This is one of the reasons I stress, to new heirlooms enthusiasts, that maintaining accession cards with all the background information is so important. The stories can be as important as the varieties themselves. This is especially true with family heirlooms that have been passed down. 
 
When I co-founded AHSC (Appalachian Heirloom Seed Conservancy) we included Missouri as part of our region. Obviously, Missouri is not an Appalachian state. But, another instance of population dynamics, the English settlement of Missouri came directly out of Kentucky. And we often find varieties in the Ozarks with a direct Appalachian connection that are no longer grown in the Southern Hills. 
 
One problem we have is that it is difficult to document anything past three generations. You might know for sure that your grandmother grew a specific tomato. And the presumption (and family lore) is that she got it from her mother. But you don't know that for sure. And neither of them is around to ask. 
 
Separating such anecdotal evidence is another challenge. Here's an example: Most of the dozen or more "found in a goose's crop" stories are apochraphal.  They sound good, except it's always a friend's granduncle's barber's sister who heard about it at the beauty salon, from the niece of the guy who supposedly shot the goose. 
 
On the other hand, one of the oldest family heirlooms in my collection - a cowpea - comes from the Adair family, in western Kentucky. They can trace it directly, in the family, to the end of the Civil War.  Family lore has it, however, that they've been growing them since settling in the Wingo, KY area, in 1820.
 
In this case, the seed itself lends credence to that. There are two forms of this cowpea. The younger one dates from about the time of the Civil War. The older one goes back at least to the 18th century. The one the Adairs have is the older version, so it's probably true that they've been growing them that long, and, possibly, brought the seed with them from Virginia or wherever. 

All of which can be fascinating. And, when you think about it, heirloom collecting is tailor made for anybody who loves doing historical research. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 January 2015 at 17:26
What I see as the problem with heirloom, is the different growing regions. Heirloom is great as long as it is grown where it originated. Once it is taken away from that too many things change and  IMO it isn't the heirloom vegtable or fruit or possibly even the animal it once was when it was "home"
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 January 2015 at 19:13
   Interesting thought, Ak1!  I'd be interested to hear what Brook's views are on the matter.  I'd be interested in what adherence a seed must keep in order to be labeled as heirloom...or perhaps to be continued to be labeled as such.

   I know, just from a taste perspective, animals can differ when grown in different environments where their feed changes.  Just as a grape, or olive, can differ in flavor characteristics from season to season...depending on the years weather.  Take the same bees that produce summer and fall honey...you get definite differences in flavor and color.  Now, if you have a large development come in and remove the top layer of soil, and clover...the honey will surely change.  Ill prepared soil for garlic or potatoes will greatly effect flavor, texture, yield.  Tomatoes grown in soil with ill managed ph won't produce good healthy fruit, etc.

   I'm certainly not saying that you are wrong, AK...I think it's a great question.  I'm just curious where it would end.  If you were taking a strict stance on regions, would you be better off confining the confines to regions within a particular state?  Each state could have different types of growing environments within their own state...looking passed temperature alone.

   Being completely ignorant on this topic...I just don't know!  The question I would pose first is regarding the seed.  Irregardless of how the specific plant is treated, or grown...is the seed of equal purity as the one before it?  

     If it is of differing quality, the whole strain could easily be bastardized over time.  If the seed is of the same purity and the fruit, or vegetable, itself differs...would we be best off describing the vegetable as (just say) Southern Illinois version of said fruit/veg...or Eastern Missouri version of said plant/fruit/veg.

   Dan
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 January 2015 at 23:00
What you're doing, Darko, is raising the whole issue of terroir; that is, the characteristics an organism inherits from where it is grown or raised.

To a certain degree, the concept of terroir supports you contention. But the open question becomes, how do you define it georgraphically. Certainly not the way Europe does: Those classifications are political, not geographical.

But, that aside, the real questions is, if a, say, tomato is adapted to growing in Mississippi, and you plant seeds in, say, Oregon, does the effects of terroir truly change the basic varietal identity? After being heavily involved with heirlooms for a quarter century, I would have to say you are overstating the case. True, there are some varieties that are super sensitive to local conditions. But, all in all, most veggies readily adapt to local conditions without loosing their essential identities.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 January 2015 at 23:12
Dan, there is no one definition of heirloom.

In general, though, they are open pollinated varieties that have been grown for a longish period of time. Fifty years is the most commonly used period.

Many enthusiasts use 1940 as a cut off date; the idea being that it was after 1940 that the big push for hybrids began. The problem with that is it excludes many great open pollinated varieties bred after that date.

Others want to exclude commercial introductions. That, too, has obvious problems, not the least of which is that it excludes many of the iconic varieties. All the Livingston tomatoes, for instance. Most cucumbers. And incredible number of squashes. Even the beloved Brandywine tomato was a commercial introduction.

Back in 1996, writing in Taylor's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables, Ben Watson presented a three-part definition that seemed to cover all the basis. It is the definition used by the Appalachian Heirloom Seed Society, and others have picked it up as well:

1. The variety must be open pollinated.
2. The variety must have been grown for at least 50 years.
3. The variety must have a history of its own.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gonefishin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 January 2015 at 04:53
   Interesting stuff...thanks Darko and Brook!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote AK1 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 January 2015 at 09:09
That's basically what I was wondering. Thanks Brook.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 February 2015 at 07:35
One thing about this discussion is that Ron picked it up in the middle. What he and I had been discussing was the effects of population dynamics on heirlooms.

This has just come up again, in our investigations into the foodways of the Germans From Russia. Just as we know that most true bi-colored tomatoes were originally Germanic, almost all of the original black tomatoes come from the Crimea and south Russia.

Logic would tell us, therefore, that there should be GFR families in the Dakotas, Montana, and the lower plains, growing black tomatoes from seed that was passed down from their immigrant forebears.

Just what I need; yet another investigation.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Karl Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 February 2015 at 11:46
Regardless of pedigree the feature that I appreciate most is that heirloom plants do not produce sterile offspring like many store bought hybrid seeds. 

This reminds me that what I thought were "not fully ripe" large tomatoes which were common where I grew up in south-western Pennsylvania.  I see a possible connection now. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 February 2015 at 16:12
Personally, I've never run into a sterile hybrid; although I know they're talked about a lot. Or used to be.

I've concluded that "sterility" was one of the things instituted by the seed industry to further protect their proprietary vegetable creations.

Don't want to bore everyone with how hybrids are created, but, in short, two or more in-bred varieties are crossed to produce a plant with desired characteristics.

If you save seed from those plants (the F2 generation) they revert to the genetic make-up of all the parents. So, for instance, you might wind up with six or eight different tomatoes, none of which resemble the one you started with.

The problem isn't that you get a lot of bad tomatoes, or whatever. The real problem is that one of them might be slam-dunk the best you've ever eaten. But you can't grow it again, without going through a massive, multi-year stabilization program.

I once ran into that due to impure squash seed I'd been sent that produced five different squashes, one of which I would have loved to stabilize. But doing so with squash makes doing it with tomatoes look like a cakewalk, so I sadly passed.
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