We have a family friend who has been all over the world as a photographer. On his visits home he loved to quiz the kids on geography and make up goofy quizzes such as “Name five things we eat all the time that our parents didn’t.” (Some of the items: tofu, yogurt, granola, avocados, salsa.) The kids would goggle in wonder at the foods they’d assumed were always on the menu yet were in fact recent introductions into the everyday American diet.

I think of this when I first take a look at new seed introductions each year. It seems we hardly need more choices but, in fact, some of the vegetables we grow every year and take for granted are relatively new to the market. Take, for example, the sugar snap pea, now around 40, give or take a few years. It’s hard to remember that before this eat-out-of-hand, crunchy garden staple came along, gardeners could choose between planting a traditional English pea or a snow pea. The sugar snap is the creation of pioneering Idaho botanist Calvin Lamborn, who died in 2017, and whose son Ron is carrying on his father’s legacy.

In 1969, Lamborn was tasked with creating a snow pea with straighter and smoother pods. Through traditional cross-breeding he spotted a rogue offspring with a thicker pod than regular peas. Suspecting that a more sturdy pod could yield a straighter, smoother snow pea, he singled it out as a possible candidate. Years later, instead of an improved snow pea he had an entirely new product on his hands — the sugar snap, although Lamborn attested to the fact that the original sugar snap existed as an heirloom seed over 100 years ago before falling into obscurity. Named for his daughter, Sugar Ann has become the gold standard of the snap pea.

Fast forward to 2020 and we have Ron’s addition to his father’s legacy, seeds for Honey Snap II, a golden yellow variety, and Royal Snap II, deep purple with bright green peas inside. If you want color on your table, a bowl of the snap pea trio is the answer.

Another category of vegetable with recent additions that have become staples is winter squashes and pumpkins. The old-fashioned Hubbards, butternut and acorn have been joined by red kuris, delicatas, buttercups and the carnival-type squashes, while in the pumpkin patch, good old pie and jack-o’lantern varieties have ghostly white, flattened Cinderella-type and tiny minis as neighbors. This year sees a new blue pumpkin seed to add to the list. The pumpkin Blue Prince was a 2020 National Winner in All-America Selections’ Edible category. While it’s described as blue, I’d say it’s more a lovely light blue-grey in color, squat and flat-shaped, with a deep-orange flesh. The good news it that, unlike those pretty white pumpkins, its flesh is savory and sweet, not stringy, so you can use it decoratively and also eat it. A vigorously vining plant, Blue Prince trails up to five feet, with fruits that weigh about seven to nine pounds at about 12 inches. Blue Prince will take 110 days to be ready for harvest after seeds have been sown directly into the garden, which is late for northern gardeners, but it was the first pumpkin variety in the AAS Trials to flower, which means it could be a good variety where the growing season is shorter. It also showed better tolerance to powdery mildew than the other pumpkin varieties in the trials. It seems well worth a try and may join all the other varieties we’re accustomed to enjoying.

Kale is yet another plant that has seen new varieties become staples in the garden. Add “kale chips” to that list of foods your parents probably never ate but which are beloved by many kids who aren’t veggie-friendly. The chips wouldn’t exist if not for the addition of Red Russian kale to the seed pantheon. Now Red Russian is joined by its cousin, White Russian Siberian Kale, silvery green with white veining. Similar to Red Russian, but a few inches taller, it’s said to be a third more productive, with larger, more serrated leaves, as well as much hardier than Red Russian, holding into November without protection and thriving in an unheated greenhouse when temperatures go down to 0°. As with other Siberian kales, its flavor gets sweeter with frost, so it’s earned a place on the seed list for this year.