Amana Heritage Seed Bank Brochure

By Larry Rettig (LarryR) on November 29, 2011


Amana Heritage Seed Bank

Larry & Wilma Rettig
107, 306 Hwy. 220 Trail
Amana, IA  52334
Phone: 319-622-3800
Email:  [email protected]


The plant varieties described below were all grown in pre-1932 Amana communal kitchen gardens. Seed for each of these varieties was brought from Germany first to the Ebenezer settlements in New York and subsequently to the Amana Colonies.  It is possible, however--especially in later years--that seed for some varieties was available commercially.

Amana Radish (Vielfarbiger Rettich)

Amazing in its variability, the "Multicolored Radish" is a fun radish to grow, because the grower never knows with certainty what (s)he will be harvesting.  Its color ranges from purple to red to white.  The size is highly variable as well.  Some radishes will be small and round, others of medium size with irregular shapes, and yet others quite large and sometimes carrot-shaped.

Culture is identical to that of other radishes.  It can be sown quite early in spring (cover to thickness of seed), when nighttime lows still dip slightly below freezing.  It goes to seed rather quickly and has a tendency to self-sow, so that a second harvest in the fall is often possible without any additional effort on the part of the grower.  Seed stalks can be harvested when some of the individual seed capsules on the stalk have turned a light tan color.

Storing quality is unsurpassed.  In some Amana families Vielfarbige Rettich are a New Year’s Day tradition.  If stored in the crisper drawer of a refrigerator, they will be as fresh and crisp on that day as they were the day they were harvested.

As far as we know, this variety is unique to Amana gardens.

Amana String Bean (Grüne Bohnen)

Typical of many European varieties, this green string bean is flat, as opposed to its rounded American counterpart.  Flavor is delicious and much superior to that of any American rounded variety. Culture is identical to that of other green bean varieties (sow to thickness of seed after danger of frost has passed).  Plant rows 4-5 feet apart, as plants have a greater tendency to vine than most American varieties.  Seeds may be harvested in late summer or fall, after the pods have lost their green color.  Other varieties of green beans should not be grown in the same garden (or should be planted as far away as possible), if seed is to be harvested.

We suspect that this variety--or a similar one--still survives in European gardens.

Celeriac (Knollecellerie)

Celeriac, or "Root Celery," is still a popular vegetable in Europe and has enjoyed increasing popularity in the U.S. as well.  It is a celery that is grown not for its stalks, but for its bulbous root, which has a mild, pleasing celery flavor and is used raw in salads or cooked in soups.  The stalks are small, strong-tasting, stringy, and generally unpalatable.  If finely chopped, they may be used to flavor soups and other dishes.

Culture is slightly different from regular celery, in that some effort must be put forth in order to harvest a reasonably large bulb in the fall. Plants must be kept well-watered, especially during dry summers.  Outer stalks are removed periodically in order to encourage large bulb formation. Bulbs store well after harvested, a definite advantage for pre-1932 communal kitchen cooks.  (Plants usually do not produce seeds the first year and are not winter hardy in Iowa, so new seed must be purchased each year.  “Large Smooth Prague” is generally the variety of choice.)

Citron Melon (Zitter)

Looking for all the world like miniature watermelons, citrons are bound to disappoint anyone who attempts to eat one raw.  The flesh is hard, white, and practically tasteless.  Citrons are eaten primarily in a pickled form, with the dominant flavoring usually that of cloves and cinnamon.  The vines are also quite similar to watermelon, as is this plant's culture.  When processing citron, save the seeds, dry them, and plant to thickness of seed when the weather turns warm in late May or early June)

Though grown in Amana gardens, Citron Melon is not a variety peculiar to Amana.  Seed is available commercially in the United States, e.g. from Stokes Seeds, Buffalo, NY.  We no longer bank this seed.

Eiersalaat ("Egg lettuce")

This unique leaf lettuce variety is known locally as "egg lettuce," because it was usually served in communal kitchens with bits of hard-boiled egg in the dressing.  Leaves are almost completely yellow in color, very tender, with a slight buttery flavor and texture.  Other advantages include heat resistance, slowness in bolting, and retarded development of bitterness.

Culture is identical to other lettuce varieties. (plant to thickness of seed in early spring)  Seed stalks may be harvested after they begin to turn brown.  Left in the garden over winter, this lettuce often self-sows in the spring.

As far as we can determine, this variety is unique to Amana gardens.

Ebenezer Onion

A popular onion in the Northeast and Upper Midwest because of its winter keeping qualities, it was introduced by the Amana Inspirationists during their sojourn at Ebenezer, New York.  Oral tradition has it that huge surpluses in the Ebenezer kitchen gardens resulted in the sale of this onion on the nearby Buffalo, NY, market.  Its popularity was quickly established because of its superb keeping qualities over winter.  It is occasionally still available through such well-known firms as Burpee Seeds.  Whether its counterpart in Germany still survives is not known.

Culture is identical to other varieties.  (Onion production is a three-stage process.  Mature onions planted in spring produce seed, which is harvested in summer.  The following spring, the seed is planted to its thickness and produces small onions called “sets.”  These are harvested in late summer and stored in a cool, dark place over winter.  Sets planted the next spring produce mature onions.)  The mature onion is yellow, of medium size, and has a semi-mild flavor.

Ground Cherry (Kapsultomättes)

Kapsultomättes ("capsule tomato") is a native American variety which volunteers in gardens with such ease that it can quickly become a weed.  Amana folks grew it for use in pies and in Kapsulgelèe, a delicious jam which incorporates fresh lemon peel.

A member of the nightshade family, ground cherry culture is similar to that of tomatoes, except that plants grow fairly close to the ground and don't need staking or caging.  Fruit and seed are harvested when the husk ("capsule") turns brown and drops to the ground.  It is not particularly palatable when eaten raw.

Schwarzwurzel (European Black Salsify)

Schwarzwurzel ("black root") is still a popular vegetable in German gardens today.  Amana folks prepared it by scraping the black skin from the root (in carrot fashion) and simmering it in water or stock, perhaps with onions added, the liquid being thickened to a sauce before serving.  The flavor is unique, mild, and delicious.  It is quite unlike the American salsify or "oyster root."

Sow in spring and cover to thickness of seed.  Roots will be ready to harvest in fall before the ground freezes.  At the grower's discretion, roots may be left in the ground to winter over, providing both seed and a larger root the following year.  The seeds are harvested when a fluffy down appears on the seed head.

"Flanders" Poppy

Although not a garden vegetable, another plant variety unique to Amana gardening and increasing in popularity with visitors to the Amanas is the so-called "Flanders" Poppy.  Oral tradition has it that seed for this beautiful, small, brilliant red poppy with black polka dots at the base of its petals was brought to the Amanas from Flanders Fields in Belgium by Amana men who fought in World War I.

An annual, the Flanders Poppy reseeds readily in the fall, with young plantlets overwintering to bloom the following spring.  Like most poppies, it is difficult to transplant once it has begun to form a tap root.  Any attempt at transplantation must be made as soon as the ground can be worked in spring.  Seed should be sown in a sunny spot in late summer, barely covered with soil, and watered well until young plants are established or the ground freezes.  Seed is harvested as the seed head begins to turn brown in early summer.


Seed is distributed in early spring, with residents of the Amana Colonies receiving priority.  Any remaining seed is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.  To place an order, please complete the form below.  A minimum donation of $1.00 per packet ordered will help cover expenses.


Mailing Address________________________________________________


                         (City)                              (State)                      (ZIP)

Please circle the items listed in this brochure for which you’d like seeds.  Celeriac is available only as plants. Unfortunately, we are not set up to ship plants.  Citron Melon seed is available by special arrangement.  Shipping and handling for seeds is $2.00.





Wilma Rettig                                             E-Mail   [email protected]
P.O. Box 107                                            Phone    319-622-3800
306 220th Trail
South Amana, IA   52334


Scrape the root until the outside black layer is gone.  Immediately soak in milk or water.  When all the roots are scraped, cut into bite-size pieces.  Boil in meat broth until tender.  (I prefer pork sausage or chicken broth.)  Drain, saving the broth.

Melt 2 tablespoons of oleo or butter. Stir in two tablespoons flour.  Slowly stir in one cup of reserved broth.  Cook until thickened.  Add the cooked salsify and heat through.  If you have a large quantity, the salsify can be put in jars, and frozen until ready to eat.

RETTIG SALAT (Radish Salad)   (Yes, our last name is the same!)

2 cups grated radishes                                       ¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vinegar                                         dash of pepper
1 tablespoon minced chives                                2 tablespoons sour cream

Add salt to grated radishes and let stand one hour.  Drain and add the remaining ingredients.

EIERSALAAT (Egg Lettuce Salad)

Harvest lettuce by cutting the tops of the lettuce.  Do not pull the lettuce, as it will continue to grow.    Wash, shake off excess water, and wrap in a towel.  Store in the refrigerator to crisp.  When ready to serve, add chopped green onion, chopped radishes, and the following dressing.  Top with chopped, hard cooked egg.

1 cup mayonnaise                                                     4 tablespoons milk
¼ tsp. salt                                                              4 tablespoons sweet pickle juice
¼ tsp. accent (optional)                                            ¼ tsp. Italian seasoning

dash of pepper                                                         2 tablespoons sugar

Thoroughly combine all dressing ingredients.  This makes enough for several servings.


(Schmiersel is a South Amana dialect word—residents of other colonies might say Shillee.)

This recipe is from my mother who used to make it for the Colony Market Place where it was sold to the general public.  I still make it this way—my sister uses Sure-Jel.

4 cups hulled, washed ground cherries                            3 cups sugar
½ small lemon, chopped, seeds removed                         ¼ cup water

Combine all ingredients and simmer.  Jam is done when a small amount is dropped on a plate, and you can draw a “path” through the jam with your finger.  This can take anywhere from 20-45 minutes.

Put in jars and freeze until ready to use.

KAPSUL KUCHEN (Ground Cherry Kuchen)


2 cups flour                                                    2 teaspoons baking powder½ cup sugar                                                            ¼ cup shortening
¾ cup milk

1 package yeast-optional.  (This dough does not rise—I add it because we like the yeast flavor.)

Combine all the ingredients and mix well.  Using floured hands, press the dough into two greased 9” pie pans.  Arrange fruit on top. (It takes about two cups of ground cherries)  You can use any kind of fruit you like for this recipe.  Pour custard topping (recipe follows) over the fruit.

Custard Topping

1 cup milk                                                                      1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour                                                         2 eggs

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 325 degrees and continue baking until the fruit is soft and custard is set.  Total baking time may vary anywhere from 45-60 minutes, depending on the fruit you use.    (If you raise your own grapes and really want to be ambitious, give me a call and Ill give you my special grape-filling recipe.)

KAPSUL PIE (Ground Cherry Pie)

This recipe is from a friend in Middle Amana.  I’ll make it occasionally, but we much prefer the Kuchen recipe.

1 unbaked 9” piecrust                                          1&1/2 cups sugar
3 cups hulled, washed ground cherries                    ¾ cup water
1&1/2 teaspoon lemon juice                                  Dash of salt

5 Tablespoons cornstarch

Combine the water, lemon juice and salt.  Bring to a boil and add the groundcherries.  In a bowl, combine the sugar and cornstarch.  Gradually add to the ground cherry mixture, stirring constantly.  Simmer until thick.  Pour into the unbaked crust.  Bake at 375 degrees 30-35 minutes.


These eggs were made in the Amana communal kitchens for the children’s Easter egg hunts.  To make these eggs, you need to save onion skins year-round.

Melt a small amount of bees wax (I am not sure where this can be purchased—I get mine from a friend who raises bees.)  Using the stub of the wax, dip in the melted wax and randomly draw on uncooked WHITE eggs.  Place eggs in an old (I say old, because you will never get your pan completely clean again!) pan, alternating with layers of onion skins.  The more skins you use the darker your eggs will be.  Add water to cover.  Simmer the eggs 15-20 minutes until the eggs are cooked.  Rinse and gently “scrub” off any onion skins still attached.

The finished eggs will be a beautiful shade of brown with yellow markings where the wax covered the eggs.


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About Larry Rettig
"An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Our garden, named Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, is private and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s by my ancestors. My latest book, Gardening the Amana Way, is available at

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Great!! Sharon Dec 13, 2011 11:31 PM 6

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