The heritage garden of Värska Farm Museum

UBABroad bean Vicia faba

The broad bean is an ancient food plant originating from the Mediterranean region that gained popularity in Northern Europe about two thousand years ago. In Estonia, it became known in the Middle Ages. Peasants usually grew small-sized broad beans in small fields that were abundantly fertilized on a yearly basis. In the beginning of the 20th century and later, broad bean seeds were often planted on ridges of the potato rows. Beans were a much-needed source of protein for the Setos and they were widely grown. Broad beans were the main ingredient of a nutritious soup, but they were also simply boiled in salt water, drained and eaten. Growing beans and using them in dishes is still widely popular in this region.

‘Helbi’ is a broad bean cultivar with extra-large pods and good flavour; it has been grown in Helbi village in Setomaa for at least sixty years. 

HERNEH PeaPisum sativum

The pea is one of the oldest field crops. In Europe, it was grown already two thousand years ago. Documented use of growing peas in Estonia dates back to the Middle Ages. Field pea varieties with gray and yellow peas used to be grown in nearly every farm. In the meager diet of peasants, protein-rich peas often substituted for meat. Dried peas were used in Setomaa for making soup and pea dish (herneruug); ground peas were an ingredient of kama (milled flour mixture to be mixed with milk, buttermilk or kefir). Peas that climb stakes and are freshly edible became more widely known only at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. 

‘Vanaema hernes’ (Grandma’s pea) is a tall variety with large pods and seeds and a great flavour; it has been grown in Võrumaa for nearly a century. 

SIPPULCommon onionAllium cepa 

The onion originates from Middle and South-Western Asia. In Estonia, it became known and was used already in the Middle Ages. Shallots that are formed in clusters from a single onion set were mostly grown in the villages of Russian Old Believers who migrated to the western shore of Lake Peipus in the 18th century. The Old Believers brought their own onion varieties and growing skills with them and gained reputation here. In addition to them, the inhabitants of Setomaa also grew lots of onions for consumption and sale.

The shallot variety ‘Peipsiäärne’ is a landrace that has developed over centuries. It contains a lot of bitter substances – allithiolanes that give onion dishes their specific good flavour and ensure that the onions keep well. 

KAPSTASWhite cabbageBrassica oleracea var. capitata f. alba

The wild cabbage that looked like kale was used for food already thousands of years ago. For the white cabbage, we probably owe thanks to the Dutch who began to disseminate it in Europe in the Middle Ages. Medieval historic sources of Estonia also indicate that there were cabbage gardens here. In Setomaa, the cabbage was an important garden plant that used to be grown in every single garden. During Lent, both fresh cabbage and sauerkraut were indispensable foods. The cabbage still plays an important role in the gardens and diets of the Setos.

‘Jõgeva’ – a cultivar bred in 1952 in Jõgeva Plant Breeding Station. A mid-season variety with a round head not too tight. Does not keep well in winter but is great for preparing sauerkraut. 

KURSLAKKGarlicAllium sativum

Garlic is an old food and medicinal plant originating from Middle Asia, well known to many ancient peoples both in Asia and in Southern Europe. In Estonia, it was taken into use already in the Middle Ages as a seasoning plant. It was hoped that eating garlic would be of particular help against the plague. In addition to boosting human health, garlic is also used in the garden as a pest repellent and for combating some types of fungi. Thanks to its distinctive flavour and bactericidal effect, garlic is irreplaceable when pickling vegetables and mushrooms.

Even though there are many garlic varieties, the garlic plants grown in home gardens are usually of unknown origin and shared among friends and relatives. The garlic growing in this heritage garden is from Säpina. 

PÕRG´NASCarrot Daucus carota ssp. sativus

The carrot originates from Western and Middle Asia and it was brought to Europe in the Middle Ages by the Arabs. Carrot roots used to be violet, white and yellow; it was not until the 17th century that they got their orange colour as the result of cultivation by Dutch farmers. In the end of the medieval period, carrots became known in Estonia but not yet widely grown in home gardens. However, this tasty, undemanding and well-keeping vegetable gradually won the hearts of gardeners. The sandy soils of Setomaa are great for growing carrots and there is rarely a garden here without carrots.

‘Jõgeva Nantes’ is a quite early local cultivar that was bred in Jõgeva in 1952. Its orange roots with blunt ends are juicy and taste great. It keeps well and is suitable for use in autumn and in winter.

UGURITS Cucumber Cucumis sativus

Cucumbers originate from India where it has been grown for food for thousands of years. It was brought to Northern Europe and Estonia in the 17th century. It is believed that the first cucumber growers in the vicinity of Estonian towns were gardeners from Russia. In home gardens, cucumber growing increased at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In Setomaa, cucumbers were widely grown and appreciated as a Lent food. The peasants not only ate them themselves but also took them to the Tartu market, travelling via the River Emajõgi by barges. During the Soviet era, Setomaa was a well-known cucumber region and the pickled cucumbers from Setomaa were in great demand in the markets of Pechory, Pskov and Leningrad. 

‘Muromi’ is a centuries-old Russian landrace often grown even during the Soviet era. Its fruits are roundish and taste good but they need to be harvested frequently since they tend to turn yellow quickly. 

RITKBlack radish Raphanus sativus var. niger

The black radish originates from the Mediterranean region. This vegetable with a sharp and spicy flavour was grown already in the ancient Egypt. In Northern Europe, it became known in the medieval period; there are several reports of growing it in the Estonian territory as well. In the Setomaa gardens, black radish was still widely grown in the beginning of the 20th century. Grated radish was a popular food during winter and it also served as an important Lent food when mixed with oil. Although it was nearly forgotten in the meantime, black radish has re-emerged as a healthy garden and food plant.

‘Must ümmargune talirõigas’ (black round winter radish) is a radish cultivar with black peel designated for eating in winter. In order to get nice round vegetables, the seeds must not be sown until Midsummer. In that case, they will be ready for harvesting in the end of September. 

VERREVNAARI/VERREVNAKRI BeetrootBeta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. vulgaris

The beetroot originates from Western Asia; in Europe, it started to become widely known as a garden plant only in the 17th century. At first, the beets grown were red, yellow or orange, but gradually the red beetroot pushed the others into the background. Beetroot became more popular in Estonian farm gardens in the end of the 19th century. Beetroot was an important food plant for the Setos as well who grew it quite widely in their gardens. Like other vegetables, beetroot was used in Lent dishes.

‘Egiptuse’ (Egypt) was known in Estonia already in the tsarist era and it was the most popular beetroot cultivar in the 1930s. It is dark red and flat, tastes sweet and keeps well over winter. 

‘Bordoo’ is a heritage variety with a slightly longer growing period originating from Ukraine. It is dark red and round, tastes good and keeps well.

NAARI/NAKRITurnip – Brassica rapa ssp. rapa

The turnip is regarded as a predecessor of potatoes and rutabagas. In the Estonian territory, it was known already in the end of the 1st millennium and widely grown during the Medieval times. However, it was not sown to gardens but to swiddens or denshired fields. It was thought that if the land is fertilized with manure, the turnips will taste off. In Setomaa, turnips were widely grown as late as in the end of the 19th century; they were baked and stewed like potatoes. As potato growing became more popular, the turnip was gradually crowded out from the field crops. However, it remained to be grown for animal feed. 

It needs sufficient moisture in order to not turn tough. For use in winter, it is not sown until Midsummer. ‘Goldball’ and ‘Petrovski’ were the recommended cultivars in 1920s and 1930s. Both have yellow flesh. The first is described as juicy and quickly growing, the second is suitable for keeping for winter.

KURVITSPumpkin Cucurbita pepo

The pumpkin originates from Central and Southern America where the Indians grew it already in the beginning of agriculture. It was brought to Europe in the 16th century. In our farm gardens, pumpkins did not become typical crops until the beginning of the 20th century. Even today, there is rarely a garden in Setomaa where you cannot notice a pumpkin plant sprawling on a compost heap or a garden bed. It is an ingredient of various dishes, but the most popular in Estonia is pumpkin salad in sweet and sour marinade. 

Pumpkin plants are usually grown from a seed kept from the previous year or received from a neighbour, and the name of the cultivar is rarely known. The seed of the pumpkin growing in the heritage garden originates from Lobotka village, Poloda locality.

RABARBRI Culinary rhubarb - Rheum rhaponticum

Rhubarb began to be more widely used as a food plant in England in the 18th century and the tradition spread from there to other places in Europe. In Estonia, rhubarb was known in the 19th century as an ornamental plant that was recommended for planting in flower beds. It was not until 1930s that its sour petioles began to be used as food. The first rhubarb cake or rhubarb soup is a sure sign that the spring has finally arrived.

Rhubarb roots have usually been received from a friend or a neighbour and with little to no knowledge of their origin. The appreciated characteristics are the thickness or the colour of the petioles. The rhubarb growing in the heritage garden originates from Lobotka village, Poloda locality.

MÄDARÕIGASHorseradishArmoracia rusticana

Horseradish is native to South-Eastern Europe from where it started to spread in the medieval era. The Slavic people knew and grew this pungent root. In Estonia, horseradish gained popularity in the first decades of the 20th century. It was mainly used for pickling cucumbers to prevent the preserve from spoiling. This plant tends to grow wild and was usually planted in a far end of the garden. It was also possible to get the needed amount from a neighbour. 

Horseradish varieties are usually unknown and the roots are shared within the community. The horseradish growing in the heritage garden was brought from Velna village, Tsätski locality. 

TILL DillAnethum graveolens

Dill originates from the Mediterranean countries where it was used as a herb and medicinal plant already in ancient times. It arrived in Estonia with the help of the Germans. Dill is irreplaceable when pickling cucumbers. Growing dill in home gardens became more popular at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries hand in hand with the intensification of cucumber growing. In Setomaa gardens, dill self-seeded itself among other vegetables. It was needed for pickling in such large amounts that in some places, dill stems were chopped using an axe. 

There are many dill varieties but the dill grown in gardens is usually of unknown origin and seeds are passed on among the community. The dill grown in the heritage garden originates from Säpina village, Raakva locality.

HUMMALHops Humulus lupulus

The hop plant growing in moist shrublands and climbing on trees and bushes probably escaped from gardens a long time ago. The Germans began to use hops for brewing beer in the end of the 1st millennium. Hops make beer stronger, give it a bitter flavour and increase its shelf life. In Estonia, hops have been grown in hopfields at least since the Middle Ages. In Setomaa, brewing beer didn’t become popular until the beginning of the 20th century and hops were rarely grown in gardens. If needed, the aromatic and waxy hop flowers or “cones” were gathered from the nature. 

The hops in home gardens are usually not bred cultivars but old and of unknown origin or brought from the woods. The hops growing in the heritage garden originate from Uusvada village, Koolina locality. 

TUBAK Strong tobaccoNicotiana rustica

Strong tobacco originates from Southern America. It was brought to Europe in the middle of the 16th century as medicine, but soon people began to enjoy smokong it in their pipes. In Estonia, tobacco was a widely known garden crop in the middle of the 19th century. Strong tobacco is less demanding than other tobacco plants and grows well here. In the 1920s and 1930s, growing tobacco at home was popular in the Pechory region. It was grown for consumption and for sale, even beyond county borders. It is rumoured that a tobacco factory in Tallinn planned to establish a tobacco plantation in Pechory.

Strong tobacco is also called Russian tobacco in Setomaa. It is more intense and has a more robust flavour than other tobacco varieties. The tobacco in the heritage garden originates from Saarepää village, Tsätski locality. 

KARTOHK PotatoSolanum tuberosum

The potato was introduced in the Estonian manor gardens as early as in the end of the 17th century, but the people did not fully accept it until the 2nd half of the 19th century. The acceptance was fuelled by the new opportunities to export it to St Petersburg and Finland. As a result, growing potatoes became an important source of livelihood for the peasants in Northern Estonia at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries. However, the potato fields in Setomaa farms are said to have been quite large already in the beginning of the 19th century; this suggests that these nice tubers were loved and widely grown already earlier than in the Northern Estonia.

‘Väike verev’ (small reddish) is an old potato variety of unknown origin and it is known to have been grown in Võrumaa and Pechory already in the 1880s. Its small tubers with reddish peels are highly appreciated because they taste good, are starchy and keep well.

MAASKGarden strawberryFragaria x ananassa

The garden strawberry became widely grown in Europe in the 18th century. In Estonia, growing strawberries is discussed in the gardening books of the 2nd half of the 19th century, but they were still rare in farm gardens. The earlier and warmer summer of Setomaa was great for growing strawberries. The local gardeners may probably be regarded as the forerunners of strawberry growing in Estonia. In 1930s, there was a significant number of strawberry beds, especially in the farms near Irboska. For many Setos, garden strawberries used to be an important source of additional income during the Soviet era; for several people, they still are.

There are many cultivars of garden strawberries, and over time the farmers have replaced old varieties with more resilient and productive ones. For that reason, old strawberry varieties are hard to find in gardens.

MAAGÕKÕNÕBreadseed poppyPapaver somniferum

Breadseed poppy was known as a medicinal plant in the Mediterranean countries already in ancient times. Our predecessors made a distinction between field poppies and garden poppies. Breadseed poppy is a garden poppy that can easily grow wild. The entire plant is covered in bluish gray thin wax layer and its conspicuous flowers are usually purple. In folk medicine, poppy was used as a tranquillizer and sleep aid. Its tasty seeds were great for using in bread. The double flowered cultivars of breadseed poppy are especially pretty. 

The scientists in Jõgeva have bred two poppy cultivars with seeds rich in oil: ‘Jõgeva hall’ (Jõgeva gray) and ‘Rekord’ (Record). The varieties of the poppies growing in home gardens are usually unknown. The seeds of the poppies growing in the heritage garden originate from Velna village, Tsätski locality. 


Heirloom plants and heirloom garden

Heirloom plants are garden and field plants that date back to our grandparents and have been grown for at least two human generations. They are also called historic, old-established, traditional or just old plants. Particular plants are called heirloom plants not just due to their age but also due to the story of the plant or memories related to it.

Heirloom cultures include old commercial cultivars sold in shops. But they also include local landraces, whose seeds, bulbs or roots were passed among friends, neighbours and relatives. Nowadays, heirloom varieties are seldom grown in industrialised farming, but are plentiful in longtime kitchen gardens. They deserve to be maintained because their abundance of colours, forms and flavours offers a change from the constantly homogenizing range of garden plants. Heirloom plants help us remember, thereby connecting us with the previous generations.

A garden where heirloom plants are grown may be called a heirloom garden. It is like a treasury containing the most precious valuables of gardeners. The heritage garden of Värska Farm Museum gives an overview of the history of gardening in Setomaa and the plants most often grown in these gardens.