Saving Seeds, Preserving Taste: Heirloom Seed Savers in Appalachia by Bill Best (Ohio U. Pr. trade paper, Apr. 2013, 220 pages, $22.95)
Best, Appalachian seed-saver for 50 years, and president of the Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center (near Berea KY), dishes on beans, tomatoes, apples, corn, candy roasters (a kind of squash), and cucumbers. He then turns his attention to the keepers of heirloom varieties, and to the communities that grow from shared practices.
“Consider an alternative world in which memory and local culture go into every child’s lunchbox.” Howard L. Sacks, a local foods leader, entices in the foreword.
Best, in his writing, speaks personally and authoritatively from experience, and he has a lot of it—in the field, kitchen, centers of study, and among friends and colleagues.
Don Fox of Madison County once told him how an ancestor from Scotland, who had fought with the British during the Revolutionary War, had fled to WNC and married a Cherokee woman, who contributed to their marriage a special kind of greasy bean, which is still cultivated by descendants. Family traditions constitute a major force in heirloom seed saving.
“Greasy beans,” expensive on the market, “are so named because they have slick hulls,” Best writes. “They are exceptionally tender and tasty. Even when they are fully mature and have turned yellow, they can be strung and broken easily.”
Best grew up on a farm in Upper Crabtree in Haywood County. He inherited seed-saving habits from his mother, who got them from her mother, Kate Sanford. Best offers “Grangy’s” recipe for relish, using varieties of peppers. Recipes, like garden products, are family history.
See 20-minute video about him by Joe York and Matt Bruder.
--Rob Neufeld, May 18, 2013