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The Best Heirloom Vegetables

Grow heirloom veggies and you’ll discover that history never tasted so good.

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Photo: Johnny's Selected Seeds at

Lemon Cucumber

Introduced in 1894, lemon cucumber is a taste treat worth trying. The yellow skin with green stripes is smooth, not bitter. Flesh has an almost sweet crunch and makes wonderful pickles. Pick fruits just as they’re turning yellow and lemon-sized for fresh eating, or wait until they reach tennis ball size to use them in the salad bowl.

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Photo: W. Atlee Burpee & Co. at

'Mortgage Lifter' Tomato

This bruiser hails from 1940s West Virginia, where auto mechanic Radiator Charlie Byles started breeding tomatoes in a bid to create a large-fruited plant he could sell. 'Mortgage Lifter' was the result. By selling tomato seedlings for $1, Charlie paid off his $6,000 mortgage. These large, indeterminate plants need hefty stakes to support the fruit-laden vines. Tomatoes are pink with a sweet taste, perfect for fresh eating, sandwiches and canning. Expect up to a bushel of tomatoes per plant.

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Photo: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at

'Blue Hubbard' Squash

For fans of winter squash, 'Blue Hubbard' is one of the standards. The teardrop-shaped fruits typically weigh 15 to 40 pounds and keep well into winter. Flesh is golden and fine-grained (no strings). The sweet flavor enhances pies, baked goods and savory dishes like soup or chili. A sea captain delivered seeds for this squash to Massachusetts gardener Elizabeth Hubbard in 1798. In 1842, she shared seeds with a local seedsman. 'Blue Hubbard' first appeared in seed catalogs in 1909.

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Photo: W. Atlee Burpee & Co. at

'Jimmy Nardello' Sweet Pepper

A Southern Italian coastal town, Ruoti, gave rise to this sweet frying pepper when immigrant Giuseppe Nardiello brought seeds to America with him in 1887. His son Jimmy followed in his father’s gardening footsteps and proliferated the seedline. 'Jimmy Nardello' peppers are red, up to 10 inches long and thin-walled, which makes them ideal for frying. They also taste great raw or pickled.

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