Did you ever wonder how peas, kale, asparagus, beans, squash, and corn have ended up on our plates? Well, so did Adam Alexander.
Adam Alexander is The Seed Detective. His passion for vegetables was ignited when he tasted an unusual sweet pepper with a fiery heart while on a filmmaking project in Ukraine. Smitten by its flavour, Adam began to seek out local growers of endangered heritage and heirloom varieties in a mission to bring home seeds to grow, share, and return so that he could enjoy their delicious taste – and save them from being lost forever.
In The Seed Detective, Adam shares his own stories of seed hunting, with the origin stories behind many of our everyday food heroes. Taking us on a journey that began when we left the life of the hunter-gatherer to become farmers, he tells tales of globalization, political intrigue, colonization, and serendipity – describing how these vegetables and their travels have become embedded in our food cultures.
Adam Alexander is a consummate storyteller thanks to forty years as an award-winning film and television producer, but his true passion is collecting rare, endangered but, above all, delicious vegetables from around the world. He lectures widely on his work discovering and conserving rare, endangered garden crops, is a board member of the national charity Garden Organic, and his knowledge and expertise on growing out vegetables for seed are highly valued by the Heritage Seed Library, for which he is a seed guardian. Adam shares seeds with other growers and gene banks in the USA, Canada and the EU, and he is currently growing out seed of heritage Syrian vegetables to be returned to the Middle East as part of a programme to revive traditional horticulture. He has appeared on Gardeners' World and the Great British Food Revival, CNN's Going Green and Radio New Zealand.
"We are a nation of vegetable growers and this book explores the wonderful world of rare and endangered heritage and heirloom vegetables – and why we must keep growing them and saving their seed, not only for our gardening and culinary pleasure, but to pass these stories on – vegetables are truly our history on a plate."
– The Seed Detective
"Whether you know your vegetables by eating them, cooking them or growing them, Adam Alexander's book will enhance those experiences with his tales. Knowing their histories, and the impact they have had on the world, gives them such a special savour that you will never think of them as mere "groceries" again."
– Barbara Damrosch, author of The Garden Primer and The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook
"At a time in history when we have become dangerously disconnected from how our food is produced and when self-inflicted, diet-related diseases are the primary cause of premature death, this book could not be more timely. Catastrophic loss of biodiversity and climate change add to the perfect storm. [...] Adam's initial curiosity has taken him all over the world, collecting precious, often endangered vegetable seeds to grow and share with others. [...] His passion encourages us to seek out nutritious, flavourful, local varieties instead of the lacklustre, mass-produced vegetables that have contributed to the loss of interest in this vital and delicious food source. [...] One of the most inspirational books I have encountered in a long time."
– Darina Allen, founder, Ballymaloe Cookery School
"A fascinating and original exploration of the horticultural heritage at our fingertips, and an inspiration to follow in at least some of Adam's footsteps. Informative, enlightening and entertaining but also important, The Seed Detective is an invitation to be inquisitive, to experiment, and to make our contribution to the plot-to-plate food movement we need to rejuvenate our relationship with food and the soil."
– Mark Diacono, author of Spice: A Cook's Companion
"If you're a vegetable growing addict or just curious about their origins, there's something for everyone in Adam's new book. Follow the Seed Detective as he searches for beans through Burmese markets, learn when a courgette is actually a marrow, and be regaled with stories about how homegrown red brussels sprouts helped decide his future. The perfect book for anyone who grows from seed!"
– Rob Smith, winner, BBC's The Big Allotment Challenge; garden columnist; TV presenter; seed guardian
"Reading this book feels like I am having a cup of tea with Adam in his polytunnel while he tells me fascinating stories of the plants around us. From why garlic was fed daily to the builders of the pyramids to the earliest chillies found in a Mexican cave in 6000 BCE, Adam entertains as he educates. I have a new-found respect for the humble vegetable."
– Katie Caldesi, co-owner, Caldesi restaurants and cookery schools; best-selling author
"True seeds always have stories, and stories are what make Alexander's book so enjoyable. Stories about grannies who bring their treasured family heirlooms to souks and seed shops all over the world; but also about con artists who improve varieties minimally or not at all, then change the names to invent novelty; and about modern plant breeders bringing a renewed appreciation for flavour into their work. At once explorer, treasure hunter, researcher and sleuth, Alexander brings a joy to his lifetime quest that is contagious."
– CR Lawn, founder, Fedco Seeds
"In our everyday lives, vegetables are often presented to us with limited choice and boring uniformity, so we take their availability for granted, without much thought. Written from the viewpoint of the humble seed, Alexander takes us on a journey that opens the true origin of the vegetables we put on our plates, not just addressing their heritage but also their fundamental role in the cultures of the world. They are the centrepieces of our lives. This book, narrated with personal experience combined with a deep passion, will make you think about the humble veg we consume in a completely different light and my advice to you is to open it up and jump in."
– C.M. Collins, head of horticulture, Garden Organic
"When you read the fascinating stories behind the origin of seeds in The Seed Detective, it's easy to be enthralled by the agricultural history growing in our gardens. This book takes the reader on a journey to distant lands with a passionate gardener, seed conserver and historian to learn how early cultures survived through seed growing, saving and sharing. It's an important and rare book that will appeal to anyone who grows a food garden or loves food history."
– Ellen Ecker Ogden, author of The New Heirloom Garden
"While this book targets a British audience, it is highly relevant to us all. Drawing heavily on his own explorations in distant lands, Adam Alexander recounts endless stories of the origins of most of our important food crops. He is not the first to do this, yet his detailed, insightful and entertaining accounts are truly superb. [...] Beginning his odyssey in a dilapidated Soviet-era Ukrainian kitchen, he documents so many sad cases of lost diversity, sounding a shrill alarm for the loss of "culture" in agriculture, yet offering inspiration and encouragement to those of us struggling to recover, preserve and share our endangered crop plant heritage."
– Will Bonsall, author of Will Bonsall's Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening
"Copious but thoroughly engaging research [...] Alexander shares his excitement over the potential for rescuing this lost heritage [...] All of which makes this title worth a serious look."
– Booklist (starred)