This is a couple who love the old-timey. Their mutual interest in history and antiques helped spark their romance, and their business includes a "pioneer village" on their farm, where they host festivals that showcase traditional crafts and folk music. It makes perfect sense that these are the people on the cutting edge of our food culture—because when it comes to fruits and vegetables, what's really new these days is the old. The revelations for cooks and eaters are generally not in the newest hybrids, engineered inevitably for large-scale production and mass-market appeal. The true discoveries lie in those open-pollinated varieties whose seeds have been saved in pockets of the planet for generations, with an eye to hardiness, vitality, and spectacular flavor.

Ask Jere why he sells only heirloom seeds, and you'll get a gust of passion: "We're saving something that Thomas Jefferson grew or that was grown by the Romans, or that was passed down in a family for 300 years, that might otherwise disappear. And it's important to maintain the genetic diversity these varieties represent. Otherwise, you have the Irish potato famine. Everybody plants the same variety and a disease comes through and wipes out the entire crop. Every one of these old-time varieties has a different flavor—and that's worth getting excited about."

The fact that the Baker Creek catalog is so panoramic is a sign of intense commitment on the part of the Gettles. "Some of the varieties we offer can't even justify the paper we use to list them, we sell so few," Jere says. "Something like wax gourds, people ain't so sure what to do with them."

Wax gourds are something I ordered for my own garden, and I'm not so sure what to do with them, either. But, Jere, on behalf of all the nation's curry experimenters and Thai soup attempters, thanks for giving us the chance to dive in and catch a thrill.

Michele Owens blogs about gardening at

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