Michael Mazourek has had an interest in growing plants since he was a toddler. Today he is the newly designated Calvin Noyes Keeney Professor of Plant Breeding. He has created some unique fruits and vegetables, like the Farmer’s Daughter melon. He is also the proud creator of black and white cucumbers, reports Physorg.com.
Among recent releases from his lab: the Habanada pepper, a mild habanero that still packs a powerful flavor punch; the Farmer’s Daughter melon, which tastes a little like pear and slips off the vine when ripe; and the black-spined white Salt and Pepper cucumber, which has garnered awards for its unexpectedly sweet flavor.
Current projects under way include purple snap peas and miniaturized vegetables with vivid colors, stripes and polka dots that he hopes will charm children and serve as “delicious, cleverly disguised vitamins.”
Mazourek says there is a growing market for unusual vegetables. One of his biggest advocates is celebrity-chef Dan Barber, who introduces diners at his famous Blue Hill restaurant to Cornell creations like curled snap peas and Honeynut squash. Barber’s input has also informed Mazourek’s research, as he uses the chef’s suggestions to create new varieties.
Beyond the funky flavors and colors, Mazourek’s vegetables have practical purposes: nutritional content, disease and pest resistance, and suitability for organic and regional growing conditions.
“We’re interested in the whole package — something that provides quality for the consumer and performs well for the farmer, with the minimal environmental impact,” Mazourek said. “In organic farming, in particular, you have fewer crutches. It is largely up to the plant to be able to succeed on its own.”
Photo by Kristian Høgsberg