Edible gardening guide

How to grow delicious vegetables, herbs, and fruit at home

19 best heirloom plants

Time-tested edibles give you a world of diversity in your own backyard––and delicious flavors on your table

What is an heirloom?
Photo by Thomas J. Story

What is an heirloom?

Although debate rages on the exact definition, an heirloom is—it’s generally agreed—an open-pollinated variety of fruit or vegetable developed before mass commer­cial hybridization began in the 1950s. As such, its seeds grow true: The offspring look and taste just like their parents. Handed down from generation to generation, heirlooms have tended to be selected for flavor, not how well they survive shipping or how perfect they look. That’s why ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes are so sweet and juicy, lemon cucumbers so zesty and crunchy, and ‘Red Kuri’ winter squash so creamy and nutty-flavored. And even if they’re not the classic, flawlessly symmetrical specimens we’re used to seeing in grocery stores, they’re gorgeous in their own fascinating, idiosyncratic ways.

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