By Linda Halley | During the last heat wave, I was seduced by a strategically-placed mountain of watermelon as I entered the grocery store. It was hot, I was thirsty, and I couldn’t resist.
Knowing a thing or two about how a ripe watermelon should look (and sound), I confidently selected the one with a bright yellow patch and a resonating thump. Yum! I anticipated standing over the kitchen sink, letting the juice drip off my chin. In spite of the deep red, crisp flesh, I was disappointed. The flavor was flat. The sweetness was missing. I managed to salvage the melon by adding it to my smoothies.
But I got to thinking, is the same thing that happened to tomatoes and strawberries happening to watermelon — bred for beauty, not flavor?
Lately I have been astounded by the size and texture of the strawberries gracing the produce aisles twelve months of the year. Compared to a June berry from the u-pick patch, these giant, firm, almost crisp beauties, from Mexico and California, are flavorless. And, the juicy, tasty tomato has been absent from our stores for so long that I need not elaborate.
As our food supply comes from farther and farther away, durability becomes the most important characteristic. In second place comes eye-catching beauty, of course. After all, how’s an earnest shopper to choose the best without a farmer to talk to or a sample to taste? So where do you go for flavor?
At Gwenyn Hill, flavor is top of the list. Being productive and resistant to pests and disease is certainly important, but flavor makes us say, “WOW!” Laurel, Gwenyn Hill Farm’s Head Gardener, has gone the extra mile to plant new varieties alongside some tried and true winners. When we find one that stops us in our tracks with flavor you know we will grow them again, in even larger quantities, next season. Laurel, and other Wisconsin veggie farmers, are working with UW’s Julie Dawson to grow out and evaluate new, unreleased vegetable varieties. After the growing season we provide Dr. Dawson with feedback on each trial variety, with flavor being an important characteristic on which to judge.
So, if you, like me, are on the hunt for flavor, I suggest you shop for locally grown produce. Ask your favorite farmer at the market for recommendations of the best-tasting varieties. And, for those CSA members out there, be sure to let your CSA farmer know when a vegetable makes you say, “WOW!” They want to know.
Some super flavorful varieties we are growing in 2018:
- Costata Romanesco Zucchini (yes, flavorful zucchini seems like an oxymoron)
- Sun Orange Cherry Tomatoes (perhaps more sugar than a candy bar)
- Carmen Sweet Peppers (they stop you in your tracks)
- Tendersweet Cabbage (the name says it all)
- French Orange Cantaloupe (sublime)
Photo: Gwenyn Hill is growing four types of cherry tomatoes this year, including the super-sweet sun orange. Each cherry tomato has a different flavor profile.