Endangered vegetable varieties from Franchi seeds

Paolo Arrigo - 4/1/2019 on 20th Sep 2019

Endangered vegetable varieties you can help to supportFranchi are a remarkable company, not because we’re 7 continuous generations or we’re the only major seed brand selling in the UK that has produced their own seeds for their own packets. But because we supply over 220 varieties from the remaining 6% of seeds that were not lost in the last century and about 15 on the ‘Ark of Taste’ and no other seed company here can claim anything close to that. Franchi are Slow Food and Vegetarian Society Vegan approved and also Borough Market approved.

How do you know they are endangered?As the only seed brand that are members of Slow Food UK (you know what fast food is right? Slow Food are the opposite, regional foods with provenance and flavour - we highly recommend you join them). The Slow Food movement was founded in Turin by Carlo Petrini who was horrified at mass produced and corporate foods flooding in to Italy and now the movement has millions of members worldwide. The Slow Food show in Turin has 1.2 million visitors over 5 days (Chelsea Flower show has 160,000!) and is THE most important food show in the world. In 2016 it was opened by the Pope and speakers included people like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama. 40% of all the people attending the show don't speak Italian and that is mind boggling.

Slow Food launched something called 'The Ark of Taste' some years back to showcase varieties that have been lost or will be soon and to motivate people to do something about it, before it is too late. You can't save something you don't know about after all. They have displays of vegetables that are on the edge with the provenance of each variety, its story highlighted and its plight. If a food or variety is on the Ark of Taste, its in trouble either because it is grown in only a tiny geographical area or by very few producers and in small quantities.

How can I help? Can I really make a difference?

The simple answer is YES you can. We have 15 varieties that are actually endangered and simply by using Franchi seeds you are supporting Biodiversity. By using these specific varieties and the other two hundred plus '6%' varieties, the producers will continue to produce them. If they become unviable and unprofitable, they will go. Simple as. So here is a list of the main ones currently on offer from Franchi seeds.


This variety is very small and dates to at least 1535 and it is an essential ingredient in the local dish from Vercelli called Panissa which is more liquid thank risotto but not a soup, and also contains meat, savoy cabbage and rice. It is currently only produced in small portions of land surrounding Saluggia. The pods should be shelled when they look sad and ‘manky’ (not a technical term!! Then you can simply freeze them in portions or dry them which is the oldest form of preserving. Use in stews, casseroles, soups and risotto’s.


This heirloom variety dates to the 16th century and whilst it is highly prized because it produces numerous large, meaty, smooth leaves, it doesn’t tolerate mechanisation.

Production now has dropped to a few hundred kilos of this spinach for market in the Oise suburb of Paris.


Up to 20 years ago, the very fertile territory around Naples and the sarnese-nocerino countryside in the province of Salerno, particularly suitable for vegetable growing, was mainly farmed with San Marzano tomatoes, a very delicate variety, with a thin skin, which keeps well also after being preserved, but which needs to be handled with care. However, due to diseases and low competitiveness in terms of cultivation costs, more productive hybrids became widespread, as more resistant to diseases and more suitable for mechanized work, but with poorer quality and inferior flavour.


Immature cucumber melons from the local varieties have been eaten in Apulia for centuries. They are eaten raw in a salad, without any dressing or with just a pinch of salt and taste of cucumber but with a subtle hint of melon. If you tried to eat it as a melon, it would be green and quite frankly unpallatable. But as cucumbers, they really are very good. Greenhouse needed in the UK

It is only produced in four areas in Italy and these rustic varieties are being left behind for more standard looking (and tasting) commercial varieties


The Neapolitan long squash is at risk of disappearing since it is mainly grown in personal gardens, and thus the overall level of production is not very high.

It looks like a 1m tall butternut squash with green mottled skin, is sweet and can reach 20-25kg in weight. Will grow happily in any soil, including clay – Ideal for London!


Carrots arrived in France in the 14th century but the orange ones we know today didn’t develop till the 18th. Like all ancient vegetable varieties, the Paris round carrot has a low yield. Thus it has been replaced by more productive hybrids that often have no heart (or at least a very thin one) like the Nantes or Touchon. There are not many market farmers who grow it. One of them, Laurent Berrurier, tells us he grows on average only 500 bunches per year (about 450 kilos).


The Bergamo escarole is a sweeter softer type of endive that has been selected in the hilly areas of Bergamo. It is now grown only on small plots located around the walls of the Città Alta. The enclosure walls of the city create a peculiar microclimate which protects it from excessive cold and wind. The escarole is a typical winter vegetable and belongs to the family of endives but the light heart is fragrant and crunchy, its taste is delicate and much less bitter than usual.


Round, crunchy closed head. Mottled red and light green markings, it looks like someone has spatted red paint at it with a paintbrush. Attractive in the salad bowl.

A good variety for forcing like the yellow Witloof type. It is produced in the alpine town of Castelfranco Veneto, in the province of Treviso. Sow from Jun to August and harvest past December.


Argenteuil asparagus is white with tips coloured from pink to purple; it is very aromatic, slightly bitter. Its stem is firm and tender, and its flavour is very delicate.

After 1900, with the appearance of diseases and especially with the spread of industrial activity, the Argenteuil asparagus production diminished sharply.


Cardoons are just not used as much today as they used to be, yet the blanched ribs are meaty with a celery flavour and are still used in parts of Italy in Piemonte served mainly with ‘Bagna Caoda’ or in France gratin style or in soups. They are quite fiddly to cultivate too so more modern vegetable varieties are favoured over them. In Roman times the cardoon was used widely and is the precursor to the artichoke which came much later.


Hamburg root parsley is a type of parsley that develops very large roots, similar to elongated, thin carrots, while still maintaining an unaltered fragrance in its leaves. This white root is particularly fragrant and flavourful, edible either raw or cooked. This vegetable is quite rare and nearly forgotten. This plant has been part of the culinary patrimony of Belgium since the sixteenth century, as demonstrated by the fact that it is one of the main ingredients in a historic recipe like Waterzooi.


The Chiavari radish, which belongs to the chicory species, has bulky roots, that are conical, smooth, not stringy, and have a slightly bitter flavour.

They are generally boiled in water and used in a variety of preparations, mainly salads and cold dishes. The roots are consumed for the most part, but often the leaves are used too, and served the same way. They are a constant feature in the traditional Christmas meal, when they are boiled and served as a side dish with salt, oil and vinegar, to soak up the fat that was part of the highlight of the meal, the capon or turkey.