Family Heirlooms

Readers share stories of treasured heirloom plants.

  • Cathy Pouria's grapevine, now flourishing, marks her garden's entrance.
    Photo by Cathy Pouria
  • Rue accents Norah Messier's hair on her wedding day.
    Photo courtesy Norah Messier
  • Hoya clusters grow easily from cuttings.
    Photo by Ami Gallier

Heirloom Grapes

The sight of morning dew glistening on dark purple grapes at late-summer sunrise, the smell of grape juice simmering on the stove, and little round glass jars reminiscent of amethyst jewels on the counter are all memories of my childhood home. Each year, my dad would harvest ‘Concord’ grapes from his backyard vines, and meticulously (like the former food scientist that he is) make grape jelly for all of his family and friends to enjoy. 

When my husband and I bought our first home shortly after my mother passed away, my father offered the decades-old heirloom grapevines to us. We of course accepted, and he and my husband spent an afternoon digging up the vines and carefully wrapping them in burlap. Along with the vines, my dad gifted us an arbor, which we placed at the entrance to our vegetable garden. We planted the grapes and waited with anticipation that first year, wondering if they would take. Take they did, growing from small buds with a few vines to the lush vines and dozens of grape bunches that now welcome us to the garden.

Our children and their friends enjoy looking for little green “baby grapes,” joyfully picking and eating the purple grapes when they ripen, and even occasionally finding a young tree frog or two clinging to the leaves. They watch the buds sprout up each year and learn a bit about where their food comes from and how it grows. Watching the sun rise beyond the grapevines that once grew in my parents’ yard, I hope to pass the joy and lessons of gardening down to my own children. Maybe decades from now one of them will grow these family heirloom grapes in one of their own backyards.

Cathy Pouria
Stockton, New Jersey

New Life for the Family Heirloom Apple Trees

My earliest memories are of playing in a shady row of apple trees behind my grandma’s house. The ‘Yellow Transparent,’ the first in the row, was the first tree that I ever climbed. It was at the top of that tree where I sought solace after an errant whiffle-ball bat gave me a black eye during a school picnic in third grade. From this tree came my grandma’s first pies of summer. Pies would continue long into fall, thanks to her ‘Northern Spy’ trees, and later into winter with cold-cellar bins brimming with apples. 

Every year, one Sunday was designated as “Cider Sunday.” At my great-grandfather’s farmstead, we’d gather apples from the heirloom apple trees. Grandma would fry cider donuts, served with crisp, hot edges and dusted with cinnamon and sugar, while we picked, washed, and pressed our apples into cider. 



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