Vegetables And Their Seeds
( Originally Published 1917 )
An everyday food. Some good and highly important things are so common we are inclined to forget their existence. To this class belong vegetables.
Probably they appear on your table at least twice each day and sometimes as many as four or five different varieties are placed before you at a single meal. If you were to make a careful search through the drawers and shelves of your home kitchen, pantry, and cellar, you would probably find a surprising variety of fresh, canned, and dried vegetables.
Variety and supply of vegetables. Perhaps it might seem to you that vegetables are uninteresting articles of food and that there has probably been little change in this branch of our food supply since the time cooks first began to conjure with stew-pans. But such a conclusion would be decidedly wrong. In comparatively recent years there have been wonderful changes, not only in our use of vegetables but also in the variety and abundance of our supply. When your father was a boy, he did not have the large assortment of vegetables you now enjoy, and your grandfather as a boy probably had no more than six or eight kinds on his table from one season to another.
It is almost impossible to name all the vegetables which one may buy in an up-to-date grocery or market today. Those vegetables which we all know and many of us no doubt have seen growing, are: artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumbers, lettuce, onions, parsley, parsnips, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, rhubarb, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
Vegetable families. It is interesting to consider vegetables in families. For example, the Brussels sprouts, broccoli, borecole, and collard are all members of the cabbage family. In the same way nearly all other vegetables have a great many brothers and cousins that are called by different names. One of these families may include a number of vegetables that differ widely, both in taste and in appearance. There are the eggplant, the potato, and the tomato all belonging to the same family, yet they do not look, taste, smell, or grow alike. Would you imagine the tomato and the potato to be related, or the turnip-like kohl-rabi to be of the cabbage family? Such, however, is the case.
Interesting members of the bean family. The bean growing in your garden is of the same family as the curious tamarind of the East Indies. The tamarind grows on a big tree sometimes reaching forty feet in height, from which it hangs in long, thin-shelled pods that ripen in July and contain a sweet pulp and large, flat seeds. These seeds are the beans. But in the case of the tamarind the pod instead of the bean or seed is eaten. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the pulp surrounding the seed is the part that is used for food. This pulp is put into kegs and covered with boiling sirup, and is then shipped to various foreign markets. Later it is repacked in glasses or stone jars and sold, being considered a choice delicacy.
The cowpea or "field pea" of the South, and the soy bean, a native of Asia, also belong to this family.
New uses for the soy bean. One member of the bean family, the soy bean, which has been used in this country for many years but for fodder only, is now being recognized as one of the greatest of. all vegetable foods. It is highly valued in the Orient both as a substitute for meat and as a relish. It also makes good soup stock and in Japan, China, India, and other parts of Asia is used in fermented form and is made into cheese, sauces, and drinks.
In some European countries its value as a food for invalids with impaired digestion is recognized and in Paris one may buy soy bean bread and soy bean meal. From the standpoint of food value the soy bean may be classed with meat, as it contains a large percentage of protein and a good percentage of fat.
The soy bean grows from seed each year, just as our common beans do, and the plants are about the same size as our bush beans. The leaves of the plant are hairy, as are also the pods, which contain about four beans or seeds. The flowers are lilac colored.
Less familiar vegetables. There are a large number of vegetables unfamiliar to many of us, which may be bought in the markets of the larger cities of this country. Some of these are decidedly interesting.
Bamboo as a vegetable. Surprising as it may seem, one of the most delicious vegetables used in great quantities in the Orient and now being introduced into this country is the young bamboo shoot. Is it hard to imagine relishing the plant from which your fishing poles are cut? Yet the Chinese consider the tiny shoots of the bamboo a delicacy and use them largely in their chop suey. In many respects the bamboo is not unlike asparagus.
Vegetables for greens. The borage is a garden herb, the young leaves of which are used for, salads and cooked as greens. Some of the finest greens are the leaves of the detested dandelion and mustard, of the beet, the turnip, the spinach, the kale, and Swiss chard. Sorrel, and many common weeds, such as the milkweed, the cowslip, the "pigweed," and the purslane, are used as greens.
Vegetables used in salads. The cardoon is a plant. of the thistle family useful for its stems and midribs. It is used in salads and soups and in the same ways as asparagus. The cardoon resembles the artichoke, although it is larger. It sometimes grows as high as ten feet and has leaves three feet in length. As we do not raise enough of this vegetable to meet the demand, we are compelled to import it from France.
The rampion is a plant that looks something like the turnip, its leaves and white roots being used for salads. The shape of its root, however, is like that of the carrot..
The shallot is a member of the onion family, with a flavor stronger than that of our common onion. It is used chiefly for sauces. salads, and soups. The shallot is pear-shaped, a little larger than a walnut, and grows in clusters. The leek is also of the onion family, but, unlike the shallot, it is mild in flavor.
The endive, which with its relative, the dandelion, belongs to the chicory family, is considered about the finest of all sala,'d plants. It is now cultivated in nearly all parts of the world. The endive was originally introduced into Europe from China and into America from Europe. This country raises a large supply of endive, but we still find it necessary to import thousands of dollars' worth of it yearly from Europe, especially from France. There are several firms in this country whose principal business is to import and distribute endive. These firms usually maintain men in Europe to locate the choicest supplies. Belgium has been the greatest producer of the endive.
The chufas of Southern Europe. Chufas, also known as earth-nuts, are native to Southern Europe. These tuberous roots, which are about the size of beans, are very nutritious and are eaten both fresh and dried.
The gherkin and the martynia. The gherkin is of the cucumber family and is a native of Jamaica. It is also known as the Jamaica cucumber and is considered especially excellent when pickled or boiled.
The martynia, or unicorn plant, is also pickled and eaten like the cucumber. It resembles a small violet-colored gourd and grows on a vine like the cucumber.
Tomatoes of many kinds. The ground cherry, musk tomato, strawberry tomato, or winter cherry grows wild in the Mississippi Valley and in other parts of the world, but it is now cultivated quite extensively in this country. A member of the tomato family, it is known as the blue tomato by truck gardeners. It grows in a small husk which if left on will preserve the tomato through the winter. Although this tiny vegetable, which is only a little larger than a small cherry, may be eaten raw, it is at its best when preserved.
This is only one of the fifty-odd varieties of tomatoes. There are red tomatoes, white tomatoes, blue tomatoes, and yellow tomatoes of every imaginable size and shape. There are tomatoes that, because of their shapes, are known as the pear tomato, the peach tomato, the cherry tomato, the plum tomato, the grape tomato, and the currant tomato.
Origin and use of tomatoes. The tomato has an interesting history. Botanists generally agree that it first grew in South America. It was probably cultivated in Mexico and Peru many years before the appearance of the Spaniards in 1519. For a long time this vegetable, now appreciated in every country in the world, was considered poisonous. To-day canned tomatoes are by far the most widely used of all canned vegetables. In addition to those canned in the home, the United States alone puts up more than 500,000,000 cans in a year, for commercial use, besides those that are preserved and made into ketchups, sauces, and salads. It would be impossible to determine the enormous quantity of fresh tomatoes consumed in this country in a year. The people of the United States are the largest per capita consumers of tomatoes in the world. With the possible exception of Italy, no other nation appreciates this delicious vegetable as it deserves.
An ancient member of the pea family. You have no doubt read the story of Esau and how he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. That pottage was very likely made of lentils. Lentils are as old as history, yet they are not a common food in this country. They are of the pea family and are about the size of a pea, but flat and circular in shape. They resemble the pea in flavor and are used in much the same ways, in soups, stews, and as a vegetable. In Germany they compete closely in public favor with the pea. The Germans use great quantities both of lentil meal and flour and of pea meal and flour. The lentil of commerce at the present time is largely from Egypt.
A member of the squash family. Vegetable marrow is a member of the squash family and is closely related to our summer squashes. It is usually white or pale yellow in color and resembles a large ripe cucumber, although usually much thicker. It commonly reaches a length of about ten inches, although the Italian variety, which has a very rough, green rind and pink flesh, sometimes grows to twice that size. This vegetable is gaining in popularity in this country, and gardens in which it was unknown a few years ago are now producing it abundantly to meet a steadily increasing demand.
Two well-known root crops. The yam is not the sweet potato although it both looks and tastes like it. It is a native of tropical America, and, like the sweet potato, is the tuberous root of a climbing plant. Neither the yam nor the sweet potato is related to the ordinary or "Irish" potato, which is a member of the nightshade family.
Salsify or vegetable oyster is so called because when cooked its flavor is very much like that of the oyster. Its roots resemble those of the rampion and the white carrots and are chiefly used for soups.
Tapioca. One of the widely known foods of commerce is tapioca, which is also known as the cassava, ubi tanah, and manioc. It is made from the roots of the manioc plant. The native home of manioc is Brazil, but it is produced in a limited way in Porto Rico, Jamaica, and on Trinidad. But on account of the cheap labor in the Far East, its cultivation was begun there and has developed until now the greater part of the world's supply of tapioca comes from the Straits Settlements and Japan. The roots of the manioc plant range in size from a diameter of one and one half inches to eight inches, and from eighteen inches to four feet in length, each growing one or more tubers. These tubers grow in clusters somewhat like potatoes. A single tuber sometimes weighs as much as twenty-five pounds.
After the roots have been thoroughly washed they are conveyed to the grinder, into which a steady stream of clear water is flowing. As the roots are crushed they are washed into pipes which carry the pulp to sieves. These separate the pure tapioca from the fiber of the root.
It is next placed in shallow vats where the starch from which the tapioca is made, is allowed to settle. The water is then drawn off and the starch , is broken into small pieces and cooked in iron basins.
This manioc root from which tapioca is made is an important native food in several tropical countries. In South America a meal obtained by drying and grating the root is baked in thin cakes. These cakes are nutritious as well as pleasing in taste.
New varieties increase use of vegetables. From this study of vegetables you.will have learned that each year new vegetables are being added to those long for sale in our markets. You will realize, too, that this branch of our food supply is constantly changing and enlarging. We are reaching out here and there and adopting the vegetables which have found favor in other countries. At the same time it is well to remember that we rarely ever discard a vegetable after it has once come into common use. We hold fast to the use of all those which have been found nourishing and agreeable. This means a constantly increasing variety — an important consideration, in view of the fact that vegetables are as a rule cheaper than meat and that there is a growing class of persons who are inclined to eat less meat and more vegetables.
Canning widens choice. Of still greater importance is the fact that improved processes in canning have immensely increased the world's consumption of vegetables and multiplied the choice of vegetables open to any consumer. In a word, there is scarcely a vegetable commonly grown which you cannot buy in canned form anywhere in the world. While there are undoubted exceptions to be taken to.this statement if applied in a literal form, the fact remains that it is substantially true. Fortunately the most nourishing vegetables—such as tomatoes, peas, sweet corn, and beans—are those most successfully canned and for this reason they are usually to be had at low cost.
Vegetable supply an unknown quantity. There is no practicable way of discovering how many million tons of vegetables are eaten every year by the people of this or other countries, or how many billions of dollars this vast volume of food is worth. The "trucking" or vegetable-raising industry in America is an immense one. In the country districts the home vegetable garden is almost universal, and the farm or village home without its own garden patch is the exception. The vast total of this production is unknown and practically beyond computation.
European seeds carefully grown. The importance of the vegetable crop in the work of feeding the world is shown in the care and skill employed in Europe in grownng vegetable seeds. In one of Germany's foremost seed gardens, at Erfurt, is a flower bed bordered with a fringe of parsley which attracts the attention of every observing visitor. This parsley is curlier, more compact in growth, and more dwarfed than any parsley produced in America. When questioned, the superintendent of the garden confessed that, five years before, he had started out with a definite ideal of a perfect parsley in mind and ever since had been constantly working toward its realization.
"It's beautiful—wonderful!" exclaimed his visitor. "You have certainly met with remarkable success. Would you permit me to take a photo-graph of this parsley for the benefit of the American public?"
"No!" was the firm answer. "I am sorry to refuse, but this product is not yet ready for the public. , You will notice that occasionally through-out the row there are plants not as curly as the others; they are taller, rangier, and less compact. This defect must be so thoroughly overcome that we may be sure there is little or no danger of its reappearance before we are ready to give this parsley to the world, or even to have it made public through the papers. We cannot allow any new strain or variety to go out from this establishment, even in an experimental way, before we have done all that is possible for us to do for it, or before we are fully satisfied with the results of our work. Come back in about five years and you may get the picture of this."
Another illustration of the untiring and painstaking persistence of the European seed growers may be seen in the way they grow radish seeds. As almost every home garden patch in America, no matter how small, contains radishes, this illustration will interest a large number of us.
In European seed gardens, the seeds are thinly drilled into a carefully prepared soil bed. As soon as the roots reach a size at which their final shape, color, and quality may be safely judged, they are pulled up by men familiar with the characteristics of each of the fifty or more varieties of radishes now under cultivation. These men have clearly in mind the ideal at which the master gardener is aiming with each particular type in hand. Often they have had from ten to thirty years' experience in the production of radish seeds, working all the time in the same gardens and for the same employers.
The poorly shaped, undersized roots are discarded and those measuring up fairly to the ideal in mind are replanted, this time with space enough for each root to permit its perfect development. From this time until the seeds are harvested each plant is given individual cultivation and protection. This method is followed by every first-class European seed garden.
Growing sugar-beet seeds. The painstaking and scientific practice which characterizes seed production in the representative establishments of Europe is still more vividly illustrated by the manner in which sugar-beet seeds are grown in the great European breeding gardens. The seeds are drilled in big, carefully prepared fields. Here the treatment of the roots is practically the same as that given to radishes. At the time of transplanting, experts select about one per cent for seed production.
From this one per cent the chief expert of the establishment selects about 10 per cent for the production of "stock seed." For example, it is not unusual for a field devoted to an important variety of sugar beet to contain 250,000 roots. At the first sorting 2,500 of the choicest specimens are selected. These are all critically examined by the chief expert, the head of the breeding work of the establishment, who picks from the 2,500 roots 250 that are destined to carry on the line of breeding. These aristocratic roots, it will be remembered, represent only one tenth of one per cent of the crop. After they have been approved by the eye of the head breeding expert their probation is by no means finished.
Next they undergo what is called the chemical test. Each root is bored and from it is taken a core of the pulp about one half inch in diameter and some three inches long. The root is numbered and the pulp from it is put into a glass tube bearing the same number. In the laboratory these pulp samples are subjected to analysis. Only those roots whose samples show a satisfactory chemical content are selected to perpetuate the choicest blood of the line.
The remainder of the 2,500 roots, after the 250 champions have been selected, are replanted to furnish the commercial seed crop.
The following spring the roots that have qualified under all tests as champions are set out in a specially prepared piece of ground where each root is allowed two square yards of earth for elbow room. The care of these stock roots is a responsibility entrusted only to most dependable experts. They are sprayed, fed, and pampered as if each were the particular pet. of the owners. After the roots have sent up their slender seed stalks, the labor of protecting them against cross fertilization by undesirable agents, and against insects, wind, and frost begins. For a time this was a difficult problem, but eventually a small circular tent was invented which completely surrounds plant and seed stalk. This is so constructed that only a moment's work is required to put it into place or to remove it.
How England obtains seeds. When the traveler through Southern England sees, on every hand, miles of cabbage, turnip, pea, radish, beet, and flower fields, all for seed production, it is hard for him to believe that England buys immense quantities of choice seeds from other countries and resells them. Perhaps peas are the choicest product of these fields, for English peas are the greenest grown under the sun.
Seeds grown on a large scale in France. In France, there are thousands of independent seed growers, many of them working on a small scale with a little patch of ground. Nothing shows so clearly the perfection of seed production in Europe as does a glimpse of the great seed establishment at Verrieres, about thirty miles from Paris. Here the visitor finds four hundred acres devoted exclusively to the growing of seeds under intensive cultivation. The owners also control more than ten thousand acres in seeds in the south of France. This area is largely devoted to beets, sugar beets, mangel-wurzels, celery, onions of the foreign types, radishes, and herbs. In fact, the south of France may be compared with the north of Holland as a seed-producing district especially favored by climate and soil.
The world's international garden patch. North Holland, bounded on three sides by the Zuider Zee, is one vast "sunken garden" devoted to the raising of seeds. Here is the home of the famous Dutch bulbs, tulips, hyacinths, and all their brilliant kindred. But since the first half of the seventeenth century; the days of the great tulip craze, Holland seed growers have turned their plodding genius to growing vegetable seeds, the demand for which is the solid one of food value instead of the fickle whim of flower fanciers. This does not mean that Holland has abandoned the growing of flower seeds and bulbs. Indeed not, for if you are in need of twenty tons of nasturtium seed, a single Holland grower can fill your order for that amount. But it does mean that the growers in the dike-protected fields are furnishing a big percentage of the world's best cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnip, spinach, and radish seeds, as well as European beans and peas. There is not a European vegetable that cannot be grown, for seed purposes, to great advantage in the land of the wooden shoes.
Success due to people, not soil. Gazing upon the great seed gardens of Holland the stranger is likely to exclaim: "Nature has been good to Holland. What wonderful soil she must have to produce such astonishing crops!" She has, but here, again, the secret of her success is the character of her people, not of her soil. " Dutch thoroughness" and " Dutch patience" are not idle phrases. They are the solid foundations upon which the remarkable seed business of this world-loved little country rests.
Knowledge of seeds an inheritance. It is possible to find many instances where one acre of a Holland seed garden returns a larger revenue than is often brought in by an American farm of one hundred and sixty acres that is considered well cultivated. Intensive cultivation is an inherited art with the .Holland seed grower. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the average Dutch seed gardener inherits truer instincts for the business of raising seed than the average American is able to gain by years of careful study. The same may be said for the Frenchman or the German who comes of a line of seed growers. In France, as in Holland, the lore of seed gardening has been handed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, through successive generations. This knowledge, in fact, is the richest legacy the seed gardener is able to leave his son or his daughter.
Seed growing in the United States. What has been done by European horticulturists can be done in our own fertile country. For every acre of Dutch land ideally equipped for seed production, America has a hundred equally favored.
The coming of the great European war naturally forced the horticulturists of the United States to grow many more vegetable seeds than ever before. This proved a big task, but it has been done with marked success and with true American energy and resourcefulness: In this work the seed specialists from the Old World have been decidedly helpful. This does not mean, however, that we depend wholly upon alien experts for the growing of our seeds. At first the seed gardeners grew vegetables for market because that seemed to be the most profitable thing to do, but the acute pressure for a far greater production of American-grown seeds virtually forced them to take a hand in seed culture. This illustrates how our country with its wonderful mixture of Old World peoples is generally able to meet any great emergency and produce the needful supply of articles previously imported.