By Ellen Barcel
Sometimes two fruits or veggies develop together to form a twin. Just this past fall, I bought some chestnuts and found just that — two chestnuts that formed a twin. Sometimes carrots form two or three roots rather than just one or potatoes develop into strange shapes.
Just because a vegetable or fruit looks ugly or strange, doesn’t mean that it tastes terrible or lacks the vitamins and minerals you are looking for. In fact, most ugly or strange veggies are delicious and rich in the same vitamins, minerals and other nutrients found in the more conventional ones. Usually, these strange bits of produce are filtered out by the vendor, so we, the consumer, see only perfectly formed items — the item that fits the ideal we have in our minds. Tomatoes are round, smooth and reddish orange, for example.
But there are also strange, weird or ugly veggies and fruits that are grown on purpose. They’re different from the norm, the ideal. There are tomatoes with wrinkles, potatoes of different shapes or colors etc. Here’s a rundown of some strange or uglies you may want to try.
Ugly tomatoes are wrinkly and usually very juicy and flavorful. They’re great sliced on a grilled hamburger or a BLT. They can even come in different colors, including yellow and purple besides the traditional orange. ‘Black Krim’ is a deep purple color as is ‘Cherokee Purple.’ ‘Chocolate Sprinkles’ is a variety of grape tomatoes that are a dark purple to brownish color.
‘UglyRipes’ are a delicious variety of heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom plants are not crosses with any other variety (i.e., are not hybrids) and so, once you grow some, you can sacrifice one to save its seeds for the next year.
Most people think of potatoes as having a brownish skin with a creamy white interior. But there are several varieties of potatoes that are very different. ‘Red Gold’ has a reddish skin but has a golden interior. ‘Purple Majesty’ has both a deep purple skin as well as deep purple interior.
Potatoes are easy to grow on Long Island with our sandy soil and excellent climate. On average we have over 200 (up to 220) growing days a year with approximately one inch of rain each week.
Once you start growing a particular variety, it’s very easy to keep them growing year after year. After harvesting them, store a few in a cool dry place and come spring, cut each stored potato into pieces making sure that each piece has an eye in it. Then plant the pieces outdoors, water and fertilize over the growing season and harvest in the fall. Each small piece of potato with an eye will have turned into a large potato plant and underground each you’ll find lots of edible potatoes.
Carrots are another crop about which people have a very definite opinion. They should be a long, single-rooted veggie bright orange in color. But, some carrots will produce several roots making it look sort of weird. ‘Purple Haze’ is a hybrid carrot that, as its name implies, is a deep purple color.
If you are growing your carrots in a container, make sure it is deep enough for the roots to form. Also, do not transplant carrots since it disturbs the roots and it’s the root of each plant that you want to eat. Start the seeds either where you plan to grow them or in a peat pot that can be moved whole into the garden.
Most of us think of cauliflower and expect it to be a head of creamy white curds. They can be cooked in a whole variety of ways, including boiled, steamed and raw (with dip). But there are a number of other unusual (and colorful) varieties of cauliflower. The cultivar ‘Cheddar’ has bright orange curds and has lots of beta carotene. Cooked, it has an even brighter color.
Other varieties include ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Purple Head,’ which have, as the second name implies, purple heads. They have a mild flavor and certainly add color to a salad. ‘Cauliflower Romanesco’ (Roman cauliflower) is really weird looking — its’ lime green curds are pointed. Since cauliflower prefers a near neutral soil pH, you need to add lime to your soil.
Yes, there are many other strange varieties of plants. There are long, white radishes, bumpy white pumpkins and even giant kohlrabi the size of a head of cabbage. Since it’s always fun to try something different in the garden, do try one (or more) of these ugly, strange or weird veggies. You may find that children and grandchildren are fascinated by them, making it easier for you to get them to try and taste something new.
Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. Send your gardening questions to [email protected] To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.