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Free Tomato Plant Giveaway at Old Sturbridge Village

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


Get free tomatoes and learn some important history in the process.

Free heirloom tomato plants will be given to Old Sturbridge Village visitors on Saturday, May 18 to celebrate the start of the gardening season. The free tomato plants, grown by OSV horticulturists, include popular varieties from the 1830s: Brandywine, Yellow Pear, and Large Red. (The tomato plants are free with museum admission, while supplies last, limit one plant per family). Museum visitors will receive a free tomato voucher upon arrival, which can be redeemed from 11:00 – 5:00 p.m. near the museum's Herb Garden.

Heirloom Plants

Other heirloom plants grown at the Village will be offered for sale as well, including flowers like hollyhock, wild foxglove, blackberry lily, tall mallow and herbs such as basil, thyme, and sage, hyssop, and more (prices range from $3-$5, depending on size).

OSV historians will demonstrate hearth cooking with tomato catsup, and will offer three gardening talks: "Growing Tomatoes in the 1830s and Today," "Can Tomato Pills Cure What's Ailin' Ya?" and "Saving Seeds from Heirloom Tomatoes."

"Heirloom tomatoes taste far better than today's supermarket tomatoes, which are often picked when they are still green," notes Roberta McQuaid, Old Sturbridge Village staff horticulturist.

"Some say the heirloom Brandywine tomato is the world's best-tasting tomato. The Yellow Pear tomato produces two-inch-long pear shaped fruit -- perfect as a tasty snack while gardening. And the Large Red tomato can grow as big as your fist!"

A History of Tomatoes

Originating in South America, the tomato spread to Mexico, where Spaniards associated the Aztec word tomatl, meaning "plump fruit" with the edible tomato. From Mexico, tomatoes traveled to Spain, Italy, England, and the rest of Europe. They were first imported into New England from the Mediterranean.

Although tomatoes are a favorite food today, people in early America often did not like the taste, and did not know how to prepare tomatoes. Opinions changed after famous domestic advice author Lydia Maria Child recommended tomatoes in her book, American Frugal Housewife, noting, "This is a delicious vegetable. It is easily cultivated, and yields a most abundant crop." By the end of the 1830s, catsup, or "ketchup," was well on its way to becoming America's national condiment.

Heirloom gardening is one of the important ways that Old Sturbridge Village preserves the past. The museum's horticulturists maintain many different types of historical gardens, including an extensive Herb Garden and formal exhibit area showcasing 400 heirloom plants in terraced beds; a farm kitchen garden with vegetables, herbs and fruits; the Parsonage kitchen garden showing more scientific and experimental gardening techniques of the day (including the cultivation of tomatoes); a “pleasure garden” of period flowers in formal design; and a children’s garden to encourage gardening curiosity among young people.

All of the plants grown in the Village fields and gardens are consistent with those grown locally in the 1830s. The advent of industrial agriculture dramatically has reduced the number of varieties of fruits and vegetables available now in grocery stores. Today's varieties represent only a small portion of the fruits and vegetables available to 19th-century families. Old Sturbridge Village preserves these varieties by growing them in Village gardens, by selling seeds and plants, and by offering free tomato plants annually to visitors.



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