Edible gardening zeitgeist
What will be the next new taste to capture the hearts of restaurant chefs and home cooks alike? It could be heirloom root
vegetables, says Renee Shepherd. Or perhaps peppers from the Czech Republic, “giant heart-shaped fruits that are really, really
sweet.” Maybe Portuguese kale. “It looks like a cross between kale and collards, and it’s sweeter than any kale I’ve ever
eaten.” Or small, early-ripening watermelons from Vietnam that come in different colors.
Shepherd has shaped our taste for produce ever since a trip abroad in the late 1980s, when she found a colorful mesclun mix at a produce market in Italy—“the leaves tasted buttery, spicy, nutty, crunchy, fabulous,” she says. She brought the seeds back to the United States, to be grown by small, local farmers for pioneering chefs like Alice Waters. Arugula followed, then chioggia beets, dinosaur kale, and many other varieties now familiar to backyard gardeners.
“We take for granted that we can grow crops from any cuisine,” says Shepherd. And one reason is that she’s made it so easy with her line of packaged seeds.
Shepherd’s discoveries keep on coming— broadening our palette of edible plants. “There’s still a whole untapped world of varieties,” she says. “I’m working with seed suppliers from France and China and Israel. We are just scratching the surface.”