This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mennonite Heirloom Gardens

Goadenfleky (garden patch)

  March is the perfect time to order those special heirloom garden seeds and plants.  Seed Savers' Exchange is a non-profit seed preservation club that has undertaken to preserve and distribute numerous heirloom seeds, including many of Russlander, Mennonite and Amish origin.  I have combed their catalog for seeds that pertain most directly to the Mennonite ethnic heritage.  Have a great time gardening -- and don't forget to tell your children and grandchildren the stories of the many Mennonite and Amish gardens that have come before...

Hutterite Soup Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris):  #1438

  SSE indicates that these seeds originated with the Forest River Colony in North Dakota’s Red River Valley.  While the Hutterites have formed their own unique Anabaptist identity, they are amongst the oldest original Anabaptist communities, originating from George Blaurock’s missionary work in Austria’s Tyrol.  

  SSE describes these beans as “greenish-yellow seeds with a distinctive dark ring around the eye” and heartily recommends this as an excellent soup bean.

Mayflower or Amish Knuttle Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris):  #1029

  These beans are both versatile and intimately connected with Anabaptist history.  Mayflower refers to the legend that these beans were brought to North America aboard the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann Hutchinson – who would eventually leave Plymouth Rock Plantation with the more Anabaptist-leaning pilgrims who had been infused with Mennonite theology and ideals during their stay in the Netherlands – the so-called Speedwell Anabaptists.  Hutchinson did not in fact come to Plymouth on the Mayflower, but that does not mean that her beans did not either.  Hutchinson did help Roger Williams establish Rhode Island.

  It seems likely that these seeds are from early Amish stock as they have been passed around the Mid-Atlantic all this time.  SSE commends them as “this productive cutshort type [of bean] has short pods packed with small square seeds.  White seeds blotched with rose.  Young string beans are prized for delicious flavor.  Also excellent as a dry bean.”

Russian Pickling Cucumber (Cucumis sativus):  #1532

  SSE indicates that this pickling cucumber originated in Perm – possibly amongst the Russian Mennonites of that area.  Originating from Mr. Daniel Flyger, these cukes are said to be heirloom seeds brought to the South Dakota settlements by German-Russian immigrants in the 1870s when the Mennonites immigrated to the USA and Canada rather than to lose their valued freedom of religion in Russia.

   SSE describes these Russian natives as, “Early maturing smooth green pickling cucumber[s] with a delicious sweet flavor and good crunch.”  Sounds perfect for Refrigerator Pickles.

Parade Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus):  #112

  Parade cucumbers originate in Russia.  This heirloom variety is said to be resistant to weather extremes (perfect for the steppes or the North American prairies).

   SSE describes Parade cucumbers as, “Heavy set of uniform fruits that mature at relatively the same time, making it a good processing variety.  Fruits are 5” long by 2” in diameter.  Sweet and crunchy.

Grandma Einck’s Dill (Anethum graveolens):  #277

  One cannot have wonderful heirloom cucumbers without an Anabaptist heirloom dill for pickles and fresh sour cucumber salad.  SSE indicates that this fragrant dill was donated by Diane Ott Whealy from her grandmother Katherine Einck’s family garden near Festina, Iowa, and that the seeds have been in the Einck family since 1920.

  This dill is self-seeding – so with a bit of care, not only will your garden provide seasons of ready herbs but it should begin to acquire that brilliant informality that only occurs after seasons of useful volunteer plants have established themselves and intermingled.

Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce (Latuca sativa):  #626

  This is an Amish heirloom lettuce that SSE recommends for its ruggedness and production.  Describing it as, “Thick compact plant great for a cut-and-come-again lettuce when thickly sown.  Thin midrib, good texture, pleasant sharp flavor.  Looseleaf.”

  There is nothing better than a sandwich made with fresh butter and sun-warmed loose-leaf lettuce fresh from the garden, one of my favorite gardening rewards from the prairie.

Speckled Martin Lettuce (Latuca sativa): #39

  This is a true Mennonite Trekker’s lettuce – no, not from the Great Trek into middle Asia, but rather an heirloom procured from the Urian Martin family whose Canadian Mennonite ancestors brought it with them from Pennsylvania to Ontario in 1799 – in a covered wagon, no less.  

  SSE describes it as “Juicy, thick leaves … green tinged with red.  Mild flavor.”  

Mini-Bell Peppers (Capsicum annuum):  Yellow #873, Chocolate #402, Red #842

  These little gems are from the Ohio Mennonites.  SSE indicates that the seeds were donated by Lucina Cross who would stuff them with cabbage, pickle them and sell them at church fundraisers.

  I am a bit more pragmatic, having used similar sweet peppers to make roasted-stuffed pepper hot appetizers or cold mini-peppers stuffed with salad as party snacks.  That they come in three colors is a bonus (you might be able to purchase green minis at the farmers’ market).

  SSE describes the plants as “short, stocky plants covered with lovely 2” long miniature bell peppers with an excellent fresh flavor.”

Amish Paste Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum):  #107

  Tomatoes are one of God’s summer blessings and these heirloom Amish seeds from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, scream Maple Smoked Bacon-Amish Deer Tongue Lettuce-Amish Paste Tomato (Amish BLT) Sandwich.

  SSE states, “Bright red 8-12 ounce fruits vary in shape from ox-heart to rounded plum.  Delicious flesh is juicy and meaty, excellent for sauce or fresh eating.”  

Black Krim Tomato aka Black Crimea (Solanum lycopersicum):  #662

  These black tomatoes do not have a distinctive Mennonite heritage but they are a fun and delicious representative of the famous black tomatoes from southern Russia and Ukraine.  These tomatoes were brought to America by a Swedish seed hunter from Krim, Russia.

  SSE claims that these “Beefsteak fruits are a unique combination of violet-brown and purple-red – they turn almost black with sufficient sunlight and heat.  Excellent full flavor.”  Hamburgers anyone?

Amish Snap Pea (Pisum sativum):  #939

  SSE claims this to be a true Amish heirloom that predates contemporary varietals.

  “Superb snap pea … Vines grow 5-6’ tall and are covered in 2” translucent green pods.  Yields over a 6-week period if kept picked.  Delicate and sweet even when the seeds develop.”

  Many of my earliest and best gardening memories are husking summer corn and snapping peas and beans with my grandparents – free to eat as many as we wanted.

Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus): #778

  I have already profiled this little beauty that was brought over to Saskatchewan by Russian Mennonite immigrants.  These are the famed white melons from which watermelon rind pickles and watermelon syrup were made.

  SSE states that they do well in cool climates (er Saskatchewan, anyone?), “Round fruits up to 10” in diameter, 4-10 pounds … Pale green skin with dark stripes.  Very thin rind, must be handled with care.”  Yep, that is them.

Small Shining Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus):  #32

  This is a more traditional Russian watermelon that has transplanted well into heritage gardens in the north.  Unlike the white melons, SSE claims this is an excellent little icebox melon that will keep for several weeks after picking (a fastpa picnic anyone?).

  The fruit is described as “Round 10-12” fruits with a very dark green rind and sweet red flesh.”

Rostov Sunflower (Helianthus anuus):  #310

  Many urbanized Mennonites remember that the Mennonites introduced Turkey Red Spring Wheat to the American Great Plains and totally reshaped American agriculture.  Less well-remembered is that the Mennonites also introduced the Mennonite Sunflower also, establishing yet another entire ag industry to the prairies.
  The Rostov is not the classic Mennonite varietal, but SSE does indicate it as a classic Russian heirloom of the taller garden variety, “Heads grow up to 12” in diameter on 6’ stalks.  Large plants are sturdy and withstand wind.  Very good variety for edible seed production.”
  Whether growing and roasting sunflower seeds for your own consumption (see my mother’s Sunflower Seed Cookies recipe link), growing seeds for the birdfeeder, or merely using the tall stalks as props for peas and beans (beans and sunflower smell great together in the garden), these plants are both edible and a good chance to tell the grandkids the old stories of when your great-grandparents came over in the big boat.

SSE Rostov Sunflower

Job’s Tears / Fluβkarel (Coix lacryma-jobi):  #1407

  Every garden needs some fun.  Flusskarel is not only fun, but this is probably the oldest heirloom mentioned today.  SSE indicates that the grains of Flusskarel have been used as beads for at least 2,000 years (since the time of Christ and Caesar).  Edible, SSE indicates that this southeast Asia native has been used to make rosaries and African shaker gourds.  The  small, hard seeds mature with a hole through the middle.  Already tons of ideas for crafts are originating inside my head – including unique African food nets to keep insects out of your bowl of fresh mango or mosquitoes and wasps out of the fresh summer watermelon (see above).

  My bad – this is not currently available from SSE – but one might easily find other sources for this fascinating an decorative plant.
 Dave's Garden: Job's Tears

Note:  I am not yet sure how to add links to the recipes from this post -- this post will be modified to link to the recipe section at that point.  Thanks.  'tag


  1. I find it interesting you show the "Mayflower" or "Amish" bean here. This is the same bean that was commonly known by the "East Freeaman" Mennonites. They are Schweitzers and they apparently took the seed from Switzerland with them on their travels. (must be how the Amish got it) and then to Russia and from Russia to the plains of South Dakota. There are a few who still raise it and it's traditionally used as a green bean that you dry. The beans are later reconstituted and used to make green bean soup. This is one in my collection. FYI, the Black Krim was already in this country before the "Swedish" explorer. It was here being grown by nonMennonite Germans from Crimea. They also had a tomato which was identical to the pink Brandywine and I'm fairly sure that tomato, like the Swiss beans, made a similar trek to these shores.

  2. Oh, and I am the original source for SSE's Russian Pickling cuke. I don't know where they got the "Perm" Russia bit. They came from Ukraine, near the Black Sea and were found among both Hutterisch and Black Sea Evangelicals. I have contacted them and they are now correcting that on their packaging and advertising.


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