Grace Romero is our Research Director. Here she is demonstrating the hybridization process to members of the press on August 19th. We received about 20 media folks per day for two days. This is in the Kitchen Garden at Fordhook Farm looking due south. It was hot, dry and gorgeous.
Burpee Kitchen Garden looking north-northwest, mid-day, August 18th
Kitchen Garden looking west. It was a “hat day”. Sun block was also a very good idea, as it is any summer day.
Steve Wright is our Vice President of Supply Chain Management. No Steve—no shipping season. He is on the left. Christos Romas is our President and on the right is Bill MacDowell, President from 1970 to 1980, when he was appointed the first non-family president since the company was founded in 1876. Bill is an industry legend, still very active in gardening and local civic affairs, and a good friend.
No media day at Burpee, The Cook’s Garden and Heronswood Nursery is complete without “graceful” and truly stunning flower arrangements from our Research Director, Grace Romero. Here’s just one.
Blossom-end shots of one of our terrific new summer squashes for 2011, Camouflage, is both strikingly beautiful and deliciously versatile in the kitchen. This is one of the varieties of squash used for our famous “Fast Food Alchemy” hamburgers.
Three of our finest tomatoes of recent vintage. On the right is 2003’s now famous ‘Brandy Boy’, the first successfully hybridized heirloom, being a cross of ‘Big Boy’, a delicious, early and high-yielding red hybrid, with ‘Brandywine’, a late, low-yielding but tangy—almost “smoky” pink heirloom. ‘Brandy Boy’ combines the best of both worlds and already one of our top sellers.
In the middle is ‘Sweet Seedless’ from 2009. Some of us cannot handle tomato seeds in our diet. ‘Sweet Seedless’ is also remarkably sweet, for those who also don’t care for the acidic taste or its possible effects on the tummy when eaten fresh. ‘Sweet Seedless’ is the answer to these prayers, as well as high-yielding, early and disease-tolerant. It’s a delicious tomato that heirloom purists have criticized for being “seedless”. These folks take one bite and then we never hear about it again. The same took place over the seedless watermelon 20 years ago, but there weren’t so many purists back then.
On the left is ‘Orange Wellington’ the “sleeper” of last year’s 2010 Burpee introductions. Most folks find non-red tomatoes to be generally inferior to red due to their perception that the darker the color, the better the taste. Not always true. Especially not true with ‘Orange Wellington’, which I liken in flavor to Beef Wellington, and I am not exaggerating. Its bold orange to gold skin extends also to its interior “flesh” color. But its flavor and texture fresh, stewed, used in relishes or marinara—will blow you away. It’s actually tastier then most reds.
The 2011 tomato varieties will be announced soon. They will have some tough competition from these recent introductions and customer favorites.
A quaint close up of our kitchen garden. We use wooden stakes because we have to adapt and adjust to dying plants, since we evaluate them closely in their last stages of life. Sounds awful, but it’s just a matter of judging pathology, which is the “secret heart” of gardening research. “How healthy?”, is somewhat the ultimate question, no pun intended. For normal cropping—harvest—the wire or metal cages or supports that are sold by us and others are perfectly adequate. Heirlooms, however, tend to need a bigger cage, due to their lateness in flowering and fruiting, compared to modern hybrids. Heirlooms need “more plant” or vegetative growth and time in the sun, before they reproduce and yield their precious harvest.
‘Coconut Ice’ is the first true white sunflower, and it’s a beauty. Many attempts have been made, but ‘Coconut Ice’ is the real McCoy. Also, it has a light lime throat or corolla at the base of the white bracts or “petals”. The seed head, which is the sunflower’s actual flower head, with hundreds of tiny botanical florets comprising it, looks just like a coconut, especially as the summer progresses. Since white has a “cooling” effect in the flower garden, we decided on ‘Coconut Ice’. New and exclusive for 2011.
Now for the “Fast Food Alchemy” lunch, and quite a feast it was—both extremely unusual and delicious. Here is Grace Romero having a “hot dog” which is actually about 15% lean pork that we used only as a “filler” for the real flavor, the two new 2011 peppers we magically mixed into a Vienna-style sausage. All the relishes were also made of fresh-picked Burpee varieties.
The great writer and creative director Fayette Hickox is trying to catch every word spoken by the alchemy wizard and “guilt-free fast food” designer Miryana Navarro-Monzo, who is making sure no one is missing a bun or roll.
The fine garden designer and blogger, James Golden (View from Federal Twist), is helping himself to our special version of the “BLT”: broccoli, leeks and tomato with a “toast” made of chick pea (garbanzo bean) flour. The tomato used was last year’s ‘Tye-Dye’, an incredibly gorgeous tomato inside and out, as well as quite tasty. ‘Tye-Dye’ leaves any comparable heirloom—or hybrid, even—in the dust. Not as hefty or meaty as Orange Wellington, but uniquely pretty, in a way I’ve never seen in my career, on both vine and plate. Or, in this case, in a vegetable version of the “BLT”.
Children were a big part of Media Days this year. We wanted to see how they would respond to “fast food” made 80-90% out of fresh picked vegetables that had been used raw, sautéed or deep fried in grape seed oil.
Hamburgers, hot dogs and even hush puppies. The orange relish-like sauce is made from the aforementioned ‘Orange Wellington’. The kids loved everything.
Same shot in the shade of the verandah. We made also burrito, a spring roll, the “BLT” which deserves a solo shot, and a series of “wraps”, since they are a form of fast food that is becoming popular.
Here is the fantastic alchemist Miryana preparing one of the wraps or maybe the burrito. She is an artist whose canvas happens to be a plate. In this case, the first truly guilt-free junk food the world has ever seen. No kidding. Just ask the children or the media who wisely showed up.
Grace Romero from the front this time, as the cameras rolled and the press looked on. She is emasculating a tomato plant: turning it into a seed parent or “mother” plant in a one-way hybrid cross, of which we make thousands to experiment until we find the perfect combination of genes for our purposes or beyond our wildest dreams, in some cases. Hybridization simply speeds up what nature does slowly. The Aztecs were the first to hybridize tomatoes. By the time the Spaniards arrived, they had bred dozens of distinct cultivars.
Tomato means “quickly swells” in one of the Aztec languages. If you don’t have tweezers, you can emasculate a tomato flower with a pair of unusually long fingernails. The Aztecs probably had tweezers; archeologists haven’t found them yet. They might have been made from quills or thin bones.
Miryana directing the kids who were a bit confused about the process of making their own hot dogs and hamburgers. Or perhaps they were awed by her Slavic accent. The plate nearest her has the little 2/3 sized hot dogs on it. It was a sensational day with the kids around all the time.
Part of the “Fast Food Alchemy” crew. Cindy Newman, who is Burpee’s and The Cook’s Garden’s Planning Assistant, is helping to grill the zucchini-based hamburgers (using ‘Limelight’ and ‘Camouflage’) and Linda Cassidy, who is the Innkeeper of Fordhook Farm, is actually grilling. Miryana Navarro-Monzo is deep frying the golden hush puppies that were perhaps the greatest crowd pleaser (Take that, Red Lobster!). One of our student interns named Hanne is helping. This is the deepest part of the Verandah. Behind them is the study where our founder, W. Atlee Burpee, wrote the catalogues from 1888, when he moved there, to 1917, when he passed away. He loved horses, hence the bronze horse sculpture in the far window to the left, our homage to him.
No photo blog is complete, in my view, without a confession or disclaimer. My high school friend and later the managing editor of Crop Science, among other scientific journals, is Nicholas H. Rhodehamel . He is shy so he’s been reluctant to help me overtly with the scientific types of blogs we have published here at Heronswood Voice. But nothing lasts forever, so he has agreed to be revealed. “H.C. Heg” was his idea. Heg was a Norwegian immigrant who joined the Union Army and distinguished himself in the Civil War, fatally, and thus earned a bronze statue in a park in Madison, Wisconsin, where Nick lived when he studied virology and, later, edited scientific journals.
“Frederick Dobbs” was my idea. Humphrey Bogart’s greatest role, perhaps, after The Maltese Falcon’, was as “Dobbsie” in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Several people have written in wondering if this was a pseudonym. They are correct: here Fred C. Dobbs.
“Hugh Glass” was also my idea, but Nick introduced me to the novel years ago. ‘Lord Grizzly’ is based on the story of the actual Hugh Glass, a bit like ‘Moby Dick’ is based on the voyages of the whaling ship, ‘The Essex’. It is, without a doubt, one of the finest novels that an American has produced.
Both of us wish to apologize for creating the illusion that there were these three guest bloggers. Nick just didn’t want his name in the blogosphere. Thank God there are some people left who feel this way. However, he loves to write and is very good at it, particularly in making science understandable yet still interesting. My favorites are “Frederick Dobbs On the Sub Zero Garden” and “All That Shimmers Is Not Silk: H.C.Heg On the Gypsy Moth”. Nick prefers “Powerline : Fredrick Dobbs On Photosynthesis” , one of our least-read blogs. Which just shows to go you.
Our best blog—most read—under a pseudonym was “Batman: H.C. Heg On Bats” which I personally insisted he write—the only time I have done so. As usual, and in strict accordance with Murphy’s Law, it was the first blog he has written that has had a mistake in it. We have all made big mistakes, but Nick was embarrassed, if not mortified. He made up for his mistake in the comments section. Except for the mistake, it is an excellent blog, but he didn’t really want to write it, unlike all the others that were all his ideas.
Now he will write as Nick Rhodehamel , which some loyal readers will recall he used once a long time ago to write a letter to me about hardiness zones. Here he is enjoying late morning coffee after flying to Philadelphia the night before from Los Angeles, near his home in Santa Barbara.
That’s the opposite side of the Verandah from the study. The oldest part of the house is the original kitchen which is behind Nick. To the far left, or on his right, a small section of the ice house can be seen. Nick is sitting exactly where Martha Stewart was when I asked her to guess about the ingredients of a ceviche Miryana made 14 years ago.