- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - You wouldn’t expect to find delicious tomatoes while digging around an old outhouse.

And that isn’t exactly what was found when the Sterling-Rock Falls Historical Society had a privy dig at the Lincoln-Manahan Home a few years ago. Let’s just say the seed was planted, however.

Among the few unique artifacts found were 150-year-old heirloom tomato seeds. It took a little while for them to bear fruit.

The privy, or outhouse, was on the property of the Lincoln-Manahan Home, which the historical society purchased in 2007. The society spent about 4 years renovating the home, at 607 E. Third St. in Sterling.

During that time, a group of three men from the Chicago suburbs who specialize in antiques and archaeological digs related to privy searches were brought in. A privy also was commonly used as a dumping ground for garbage, historical society curator Terry Buckaloo said.

The original parts of the home go as far back as 1847, he said, and Abraham Lincoln stayed overnight in July 1856.

“In this case, the privy was under a parking lot,” Buckaloo said. “The tell was a square depression in the asphalt.”

The men found fine china - some broken, some whole - dating to the mid-19th century.

Also discovered were medicine bottles, clay marble, part of a clay tobacco pipe stem, and “a lot” of dishes of the blue transferware style, in addition to tomato seeds - though at the time, no one was sure what kind of seeds they were.

“(The diggers) could tell by all the artifacts that it was definitely the 1850s,” Buckaloo said. “We have a lot of them on display at the (Lincoln-Manahan home).”

The tomato seeds were “kind of indestructible,” Buckaloo said. The tiny kernels passed through the digestive system and weren’t destroyed, he said, while pointing to a book that labeled them as “undigested fruit and vegetable seeds.”

While Buckaloo sure knows his history, his plant knowledge isn’t the greatest, he said. He tried to grow tomatoes from the seed but failed. That’s where MaryLouise Angone, a master gardener from Sterling, played a crucial role.

The 71-year-old Angone has about 60 hours of horticulture classes under her belt and volunteers her time through the University of Illinois Extension Office. Coursework intensity is equivalent to the same one would see from a horticulture degree, she said.

Angone, who was brought on to try her green thumb with the seeds found during the privy dig, was able to grow two of about 50 tomato seeds using a fluorescent grow light.

“This has great historical value,” she said, noting an air of adventure because no one was quite sure what kind of seeds they were before they were planted.

The batch hatched at her home, she said, a process that began in March and produced about six tomatoes. When they ripened, they produced a burnt, brownish color, instead of red, she said.

“They taste very good.”

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Source: The Sterling Gazette, https://bit.ly/1v9EFCd

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, https://www.saukvalley.com

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