Loss of Variety
Whilst the work done by many seed savers to save the heirloom vegetable varieties has slowed down the ever continuing loss of excellent old traditional vegetables it is very sad when I think of the fruits I used to eat compared to the varieties offered today.
I grew up in an irrigation area in northern Victoria where there were three fruit preserving canneries nearby. Whilst some fruit for canning were used for cooking there were many tasty and delicious fresh fruits on offer in season.
My parents quarter acre block had a large veggie garden and chook run but also many fruit trees of stone fruits, including plum, nectarine, peach and apricots. Also there were many opportunities for children to raid fruit from trees hanging over a fence and with sometimes enticement to jump the fence.
The fruits offered today look the part and take a good picture, however that’s where the similarity stops. Our eyes deceive us. The old stone-fruit I used to eat fresh off the tree when I was growing up were tasty, sweet, sun ripened and nutritious are now replaced by fruits which look good and last for days and days on the shelf.
Plants grown in poor soils and which are unhealthy produce fruits which are unattractive to humans, so we think that an attractive fruit is a good fruit. However if it is boosted by water soluble chemical fertilisers and therefore bloated and unbalanced in its nutrition so it may be attacked by insects. To keep them from damaging the fruit further chemicals in the form of insecticides are heavily and regularly sprayed. The result is fruit which looks like it came from a healthy pant but in fact is a product chemically boosted and protected.
In my younger days fruit was picked ripe and consumed quickly or stored in the fridge. Now when I buy stone-fruit and sit them on the bench sometimes for days so they will ripen more, become softer and hopefully gain some taste. In the end they are not anything the same.
In supermarkets I read the country of origin for Apricots as those imported from New Zealand are large and orange but tough and tasteless. The best way to get the taste of an apricot is to buy dried fruit from Turkey and soak it.
One of the delights of the occasions I have travelled to Europe in summer is to eat the tasty sweet varieties of loquats, cherries, apricots and peaches they still have.
We in Australia don’t know what many fruits can taste like. Because the varieties were replaced before many younger Australians were born, They will never know unless they travel overseas.
I lived in Gympie 19 years and there was on open pollinated papaw grown locally called Gympie Gold. It was the market preferred variety and fruit was sent all over Australia. The Ag Dept breeders developed a new hybrid and Gympie Gold died out. Now I cannot find Open pollinated papaw except in Fiji which now has a shortage because of cyclones. Where are the blood plums which had red flesh to the stone, Alberta peaches, even Waltham Cross grapes.
Well the varieties of vegetable seed keep disappearing too, to be replaced by hybrids. Some commercial seed producing companies and distributors strive to handle only hybrids. Hybrids are a cross between two man-made inbred varieties. As hybrids can be patented, breeders hope to achieve a great market share with their popular variety. So just like the open pollinated papaw where growers used to be able to save seed for themselves but now have to purchase new seed each year, vegetables growers who use hybrid seed also have to go back to purchase new seed as hybrid seed will not grow true to type. So the breeders drop our heritage food varieties in favour of their newly patented inbred lines of inferior nutrition and taste.
It’s really our choice. So seek out growers of old fruit varieties and growers of our old heritage vegetables varieties. Where possible avoid inbred hybrids and ask for open pollinated varieties which are pollinated by bees, insects and the wind. You will most likely find them at local markets not supermarkets.