I always took for granted the broad variety of garden vegetables Mom grew. With over an acre to fill we had multiple varieties of green beans, lettuce, tomatoes, you name it. So here are a few forgotten garden vegetables you should grow to get some variety back into your growing and eating!
We grew the usual fare in our garden, but once in a while we would plant a new vegetable just for fun. Actually, the year we planted arugula was not so fun for me as it made me gag every time I had to pick some for a customer.
Then when I was in college, my friend asked me if I knew what red beets are. As I was explaining them to her I realized how blessed I was to have such a vast garden experience (even though it was a lot of hard sweaty work!).
And then a few years later I caught myself explaining to someone what swiss chard is.
So here are a few ideas to get you started growing vegetables you may have never even heard of.
Forgotten Garden Vegetables to Grow
1. Ground Cherries – These are by far my favorite on this list! Ground cherries are a member of the nightshade family and look similar to tomatillos because the fruit grows inside a papery husk. The plants tend to sprawl a bit but a smaller cage can help guide them upward. Harvesting is easy because the fruit falls off the plant and you simply gather the cherries off the ground. For this reason it is important to keep the weeds at bay underneath the foliage.
After harvesting you can keep the fruit at room temperature for a couple days for them to finish ripening. Only husk the cherries when you are ready to use or preserve them. The fruit is ripe when the cherries turn a deep gold. If there are a few greenish ones still, I leave them in because all mixed together you can’t taste the bitterness.
If you don’t have time to make them up into anything right away, they are super easy to freeze. My favorite thing to make in deep winter is ground cherry pie! Also, there are jam and salsa recipes for them. But hey, they taste great fresh, too!
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2.Red Beets – Some people refer to them as the dirt vegetable because that’s kind of what they taste like. However, if you harvest the red beets before they get big and gnarly the dirt taste is more subtle and the beet flavor shines through.
Red beets are a root vegetable. It grows a bulb like a radish only larger. Most varieties are a deep red with green leafy tops that have red veins running through each leaf. The root is the most commonly eaten portion, but the beet tops are a delicious green for salads, sandwiches or to steam with spinach.
The health benefits of red beets are amazing and a wonderful vegetable you should grow! Seriously, we all should be eating this veggie every week! They are great for building blood health and increasing stamina. Future mommas can include these in their diet for a dose of vitamin B folate. Beets supply minerals like manganese, potassium, magnesium and copper. And they are chalk full of fiber!
Since beets are very hard they take a while to boil soft. My favorite way to eat them is to leave an inch of tops and the root in tact (this prevents juices from leaking everywhere) and wrap them in foil and bake them. I throw several in the oven at a time and then whatever doesn’t get eaten I keep in the fridge for a quick reheated meal. When they are soft I slice them up and enjoy with generous portions of butter and salt.
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3.Delicata Squash – Or what I grew up calling potato squash. These and acorn squash are the two winter squash that I couldn’t do without. I don’t know what it is but when they are slathered with butter and salt, nothing else compares.
Delicatas have a more mellow taste than say buttercup or butternut. More of a corn or sweet potato taste. In comparison to other winter squash, these are the easiest to prepare. The size is manageable and the skin is tender and easy to cut through. You can bake them up and serve them the same way you would any other winter squash.
Since these squash have a thinner skin, they don’t keep as long into the winter. That just means I have to eat all these first!
Read More: How to Store Vegetables for Winter
4.Swiss Chard – You might say that Swiss chard is the collard greens of the north. At least where I grew up, everyone knew what it was. It is more hardy than lettuce and spinach as far as harvest timeframe and doesn’t get bitter so quickly in the deep summer heat.
One of the neat things about chard is that it comes in several colors. Well, the leaf is usually green but the veins are different colors so it is a great spruce up for salad! Because of its strong taste, you probably wouldn’t want to do an all Swiss chard salad. It would be best as an accent mixed in with your usual greens.
Growing up, my mother always fixed sweet and sour Swiss chard with bacon bits. Mmmmmm! It was a good thing we liked it because chard always flourished way better than spinach in the garden.
And, Swiss chard is in the same family as red beets! So, you guessed it, that means it packs in just as much or more nutrition than beets. It is very high in vitamins K, A and C. It also has a similar mineral profile as red beets. So eat up!
5.Parsnips – This is one vegetable that we never grew in our garden at home. Actually, I have to admit that I didn’t even know about them until my previous boss had me try some from her garden. She sliced them thin like potatoes and fried them up in butter. The flavor from these bland looking carrots was amazing! They were a subtle sweet caramel-ly potato flavor that was to die for!
Parsnips belong to the carrot family. They look just like carrots except they are white. Even the leafy greens are easily confused with carrots. For easy winter storage, they can be left in the ground with plenty of straw placed over top, just as you would carrots. It is easy enough to peel back some straw and dig up what you need for that meal.
A quick internet search or gander through an older cook book will give you plenty of ideas for preparing parsnips. My favorite way to eat them is as mentioned above. Otherwise I throw them in soups in place of potatoes. 6.Zucchini – I know, why are these even on the list of forgotten garden vegetables you should grow? Everyone knows about zucchini! I agree. Zucchini are a common vegetable but I’m not sure that consumers understand how easy this vegetable is to grow. It is low maintenance and produces tons of squash. It’s almost like a weed. In fact, around here, if you want to get back at your neighbor for something, you would just leave a bag of zucchini on his door step!
Zucchini are rather bland and take on the flavor of whatever dish you put them in. My favorite way to eat this summer squash is sliced and sautéed with butter, onions, salt and pepper. Lately I’ve seen people peeling and spearing the zucchini for fresh veggie trays. There are lots of ways to bake with zucchini as well. If you want to go a step further, we grew up making jam out of zucchini! Or how about zoodles?
This versatile, easy to grow squash should be part of every garden since it can easily be thrown into dishes as a filler and a veggie!
So as you are planning your garden and starting seeds, be sure to consider one or all of these unique and nutritious vegetables. Some of these will make great conversation starters, too!
What’s the weirdest garden vegetable you’ve planted?