I take no part in the current craze that it has to be heirloom (i.e. old and open-pollinated) to be worth planting. There are many modern open-pollinated varieties that have been bred by highly conscious, skilled and sustainable seed enthusiasts. At Sow True Seed we 100% support open-pollinated (both old and new), because the seed can be saved and replanted true to type. Open-pollinated offers a power-reversal from large-centralized seed (read: chemical) companies, back to the gardeners and farmers.
Anyway, with all that said, the nostalgia of a good quality heirloom can often be irresistible. There is real history in an heirloom. For it to have survived that long, there will be a story, and I’m a sucker for stories.
The Nancy Hall Sweet Potato
“An 1896 letter claims the Nancy Hall variety of sweet potato originated from the accidental crossing of potato and flower seeds by a miss Nancy Hall. Or perhaps, as Tennessee native Nantsy Marsenich claims, the variety was instead discovered by her father and a man named Hall. Regardless of who first discovered the tan-colored, moist, yellow-fleshed tuber, the Nancy Hall was once so loved in the American Southeast a parade was once held in its honor. The taste was so adored that a 1919 farmers’ bulletin proclaimed it one of the most popular varieties of the day.”
Quoted from the Slow Food Ark of Taste
The Nancy Hall was all but lost as a couple of commercial varieties dominated the stage, but home growers kept it alive through the tough times. In 2010 Yanna Fishman (a local heroine of mine and many) nominated the Nancy Hall to the Ark of Taste and now the sweet potato is experiencing a resurgence of attention.
“While not the most productive of my varieties [Yanna stewards over forty sweet potato varieties] , it has a rich golden color, firm texture and delicious flavor.”
Quoted from The Seed Underground by Janisse Ray
Written by Chris Smith, author of The Whole Okra, and Executive Director of The Utopian Seed Project.