Ethnic Seeds

Join Emilee Gettle and her family as they journey through Thailand in search of heirloom seeds.

  • This sweet lady had a very bad case of osteoporosis but it didn't stop her from sharing her produce at one of many roadside stands. Her smile was contagious!
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • The peaceful tropical scenery among the tribal villages near Fang, Thailand was simply breathtaking.
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • Roadside stops involved saving seeds all along our journey through Thailand. Here Jere, Sasha and I are gathering seeds of this Thai squash variety to dry and send home.
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • Our native transportation enjoys a bundle of sugarcane during our tour through the mountains outside of Chaing Mai.
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • Giant yellow Hmong cucumber varieties were especially mild and delicious. We carefully saved the seeds and have preserved them in our collection.
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • Sasha poses with the Karen family who generously supplied us with a whole trunkload of beautiful squash.
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • The man who introduced us to delicious Karen Mountain Cucumber. The fruit are simply amazing!
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • This village grandmother dressed in native attire caught our eye. While walking back to the village we noticed she was holding a cell phone to each ear and was carrying on two conversations at one time!
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • While driving through the mountain villages, the poverty was heartbreaking at times.
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • Sasha and the young Hmong girl she is posing with were instant friends. The language barrier didn't bother them a bit.
    Photo by Emilee Gettle
  • LYCHEE - Since we were traveling in December, we were just on the very brink of lychee season. This historic fruit dates back to 2000 BC and was a rare treat in the Imperial Court of China. One of our last nights in Chaing Mai, we found a vendor at the night market who had the first fruits of the season. We eagerly snapped them up. There is nothing like peeling off the rosy rind and popping the opaque fruit into your mouth. The sweet juicy, floral flavor can't be beat. The three of us had sticky fingers for as long as the fruit held out.
    Photo by Mexrix
  • RAMBUTAN - Rambutan is a relative to lychees. They were originally grown by Malayan jungle tribes, and now the fruit can be found all throughout southeast Asia. Sasha especially liked this fruit, not only because of its delicious opaque pink flesh but also because of the comical curly spines that protrude from the rind. It reminded her of curls and she found them quite fun to eat. The flavor is candy-sweet and slightly similar to grapes.
    Photo by Fotolia/womue
  • ROSE APPLE - This gorgeous pink-blushed fruit originated in the East Indies and Malaysia. They are particularly delicious, mild and sweet. The peel is thin, and the crisp white flesh reminded me of Asian pears. Sasha and I devoured these refreshing beauties with relish.
    Photo by Fotolia/okinawaksawa
  • DURIAN - My first introduction to this pungent fruit was frozen chunks Jere found at an Asian store in the states. He found great pleasure in watching me pin my nose while I tried to devour the fruit. Durian is known as the "King of the Fruits" due to its large size. Let me tell you, under that thorny rind this fruit packs a punch. Some hotels and public transportation forbid you from taking the fruit across the threshold. While some find the smell to be pleasant, others compare it to sewage; the latter winning out in most cases. The flavor is strangely sweet and similar to a nutty custard, that is if you can get past the smell. The fruit isn't native to Thailand but instead Indonesia, Malasia and Brunei. We purchased our shrink wrapped fresh durian at the Or Tor Kor market in Bangkok. After shopping, we found a taxi to head back to the room and piled our fruity treasures beside us. The Thai driver, nose upturned, mustered as much English as he could manage and promptly escorted our bag of durian to the trunk of the car. Oops!
    Photo by Fotolia/Mau Horng
  • MANGOSTEEN - Mangosteen juice has been peddled far and wide because this fruit is widely known for its anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties which are strangely enough housed in the dark purple, woody peel instead of the flesh of the fruit. While at the Or Tor Kor market in Bangkok, we found the storied "Queen of Fruits" for only a few Baht per kilo. Back at our room, we dug into the delicious goodness of the buttery mild delicacy. Mangosteens are said to have come from the Islands of Indonesia originally. There is legend that Queen Victoria offered a generous
    Photo by Fotolia/Christian Jung

Last fall, after our whirlwind tour of Spain, France and Italy during Slow Food's Terra Madre event, we flew to Thailand to spend a month soaking up the sights, sounds and delicious food crops of this amazingly diverse country. Our mission, besides a little down time, was to collect seed varieties from the Hill Tribes.

After landing in Bangkok, a taxi took us through the maze of highways and byways downtown to a small vegetarian restaurant tucked away in an alley. Upon walking in, we were greeted by Maneki-neko, the Chinese lucky cat with its mechanical arm waving up and down. We were amazed by the huge menu of delicious vegan dishes. We wanted to sample everything, but limited our choices to some vegetables we had been dying to try in their homeland, such as bitter melon. The meal was served family style, complete with the toddler checking out Sasha's plate and the family Siamese cat sitting next to me.

We spent a couple days taking in the city and all the glorious markets. Ask anyone who has been to Thailand and they will tell you the various scents that fill the big city streets are overpowering. One commonality I found was the lack of trash cans. If someone sets a cup down, it just becomes a new place to pile the trash — and pile it they do. I suppose it is job security for the street sweepers wearing surgical masks in the morning. So between the scents of trash mingling with the scents wafting from a myriad of food vendors selling every cut of meat, seafood and insect you can imagine, it is a sensory overload.

From Bangkok we traveled by bus to Kanchanaburi where we traded taxis for tuktuks and pick-up bed transportation. Just down the street from where we stayed, we found On's Thai Issan restaurant, which is where we ate morning, noon and night. The tiny vegetarian restaurant only seated about 15 people max, and the kitchen was outdoors. Mrs. On cooked dishes to order over a blazing wok while the neighbors dropped in to catch up on the morning gossip street-side. By the time we left, we felt like family.

In Kanchanaburi we picked up our missionary friend, Anthony, who would serve as our driver/translator for the rest of our trip. (Neither Jere nor I wanted to try to wrap our brains around driving on the opposite side of the road. So we were more than happy to turn the wheel over to him.) Anthony traveled with us to Chaing Mai where we wound around tiny mountain roads and through rubber plantations in search of tribal villages. This was why we were here in the first place, to locate the Hmong, Lao, Karen and Lisu people and find out what they were growing in their gardens.

Entering their villages was like stepping back in time. Children ran through the dirt streets in their native attire while the grandmothers chewed beetle-nut. The bamboo-stilt huts had clothes hanging from the porch while the family hog wallowed underneath. Chickens scattered across the road while their sleepy Thai dogs could care less.



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