Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A New Blog Theme: Incredible Edibles


A few things have gelled in my brain over the past week or so. It started with the weeds on my plot and my joking over at Soilman's and last month's Blooms Day they're my best crop this year. Then I posted about my Monstrous Weeds for this month's Muse Day and found out that at least one of my them - fat hen - was indeed a crop until usurped by spinach. A quick perusal with Mr Allotment Warden last week confirmed I had at least one other weed/crop in abundance on my plot: Good King Henry.

Whilst I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore, I've had the resolve in the back of my mind to make better use of hedgerow harvests this year. Elderflower cordial and plum jam are the results thus far. Next month will see hazels - as long as those pesky squirrels leave me some - elderberries and sloes added to the list. My River Cottage Preserves book has highlighted some surprising additions: beech leaves for a very alcoholic beverage called beech leaf noyau - sadly it's too late to make that one this year - and a saucy haw ketchup which I can make next month from the pictured hawthorn berries. I always thought they were poisonous, but I'm happy to give them a try.

A couple of weeks ago Lucy Halsall wrote on the Guardian Gardening Blog that we make use of surprisingly few of the many edible crops - some 5,000 - and that most grow your own encyclopedias talk about just 50 or so of them. Out came my pen and paper and I soon had a list of 100 crops I'd grown, 200 fruit and vegetables I'd tried and an overall list of 350 crops I'd actually heard of. Way short of the total available!

So I'm off on a culinary journey: to try eat and grow as many of the 350 I haven't tested thus far and to extend my list beyond them as far as possible. I'm sure many of them can't be grown in this country, especially without something like a greenhouse available. However, if I can get hold of any of these more exotic crops, I'll try them at least. I'm also sure a number of them won't be to my taste and who knows what might be absolutely delicious - the haws just over my garden fence perhaps?

I'll be reporting my journey in my new Incredible Edibles strand and adding snippets on useful recipes, resources, campaigns and anything else I find out. My head's brimming with ideas and things I want to try, so don't be surprised if it all gets hived off into a blog of its own at some point :)

What's the most incredible edible you've eaten?

22 comments:

  1. Mulberries, have to be my surprise. There is a large tree where I work and the first year I didn't think to try them but they are really delicious. Now I need a big garden with a mulberry tree!

    I will enjoy reading these posts, especially the ones about hardy crops, something to replace tomatoes which we can grow would be nice! Mine have blight again! I will try again next year, I just know I will not be able to resist.

    Best wishes Sylvia

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  2. Probably the spongy, pithy inside of an elderberry branch. I used to work on a commercial nursery and a fellow worker was a bit of a survivalist - he suggested it was very nourishing. As you can imagine, it tasted vile. I recently interviewed a man who had a good use for Japanese knotweed - he would stir fry the shoots. He claimed it was delicious.

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  3. VP ... I am "waiting" for this treat .. Next Spring I truly hope to be able to taste the serviceberries from our new tree (we have never tasted these berries before .. they are supposed to be even better than blueberries). The funny thing is .. our "Robinator" stripped what the tree did have this Spring .. you could almost hear him burping after such big meals of them ! LOL
    Joy

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  4. Hawthorne berries are incredibly good for your heart and arteries! With garlic they will keep your arteries from furring up! And they make a great tea! Val

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  5. This sounds like the seed of a great book to me! Go for it, and how interesting it will be to follow your venture. :)

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  6. Good luck with your Edibles project. I'm sure there are some gems out there.
    I remember the Digger growing Good King Henry and assuring me "it will taste just like spinach". Well there is good reason why some plants were overtaken by modern varieties - they tasted rubbish :-)

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  7. Unusual edibles are not always the easiest things to grow - my tiger nuts didn't come out quite right. But this year I'm hoping for oca, ulluco, yacon, quinoa and rice. Oh, and wonderberries. And I had a tiny taste of the samphire and it was quite nice....

    http://coopette.com/blog/?c=unusual

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  8. So, I would love a peek at your list of edibles that you've grown, eaten, or at least heard of. Sounds like a fascinating topic and I'm looking forward to your posts. I can't recall the oddest plant that I've eaten, I'll have to think on that.

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  9. I agree with Sylvia, mulberries are very good. Have said that I am total rubbish at harvesting them. They have the quite admirable trait of not being ready all at once so you can pick them in dribs and drabs, except I don't! One reason being that the tree is in the orchard with the geese, the geese are still laying when the mulberries start to ripen so they (the geese that is) are rather feisty and tend to chase one.

    The other wonderful crop that last year I picked and used for the first time are medlars. They make wonderful jelly. The tale is a bit long to put here so I will do a blog on them (promise).

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  10. Oh what an interesting and fun project VP - looking forward to more of your posts on the subject.

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  11. ooh this is right up my street. I've always hankered after eating bamboo shoots - you have to catch 'em young, apparently. It appeals to my sense of natural justice.

    A favourite of mine is what we used to call sea cabbage when I lived on the south coast near Chichester. I now realise that it wasn't sea cabbage at all (which is the common name for sea kale, Crambe maritima, which it definitely wasn't). It's one of those plants which I can recognise when I see it - I pointed it out to hubby once on a beach and gave him some (it tastes like a salty lettuce - really delicious). Then he took a friend to the beach by himself and said, "Look, you can eat that plant there", picked some and gave it to his friend, who promptly looked green and spat it out. When hubby tried it himself he realised he'd chosen a completely different plant...

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  12. Martin Crawford shows how to harvest bamboo shoots in his new DVD 'A Forest Garden Year' (there's a book coming next year too) and you can see that bit in the excerpt on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ggwa5irxmg

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  13. In Nepal they make wonderful sort of Millet beer by pouring a boiling water on the fermented mash - it is drunk with straws usually a few people sharing a pot.

    There's also a book (honest) called Why Not Eat Insects that recommended locusts on toast.

    How do I know these things?

    PS. did you get the pictures I sent you of the unusual garden>

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  14. I just love the word, "hedgerow."

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  15. This is a nice topic, I'll look forward to reading it. And this is all I will be able to do int he future as I have just been evicted from my allotment :( Be kind to me.

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  16. Sylvia - we tried to scrump some mulberries at Lytes Cary Manor on Wednesday, but the croquet club were being extra vigilant!

    Martyn - I can certainly imagine it tasting vile! Did you interview one of the Hamilton twins? They've got loads of recipes for Japanese Knotweed

    Joy - I had to look up serviceberry and have duly added it to my list :)

    Valeri - and I found out yesterday you can eat the leaves too!

    Nancy - thanks and I hope you enjoy coming along for the discoveries :)

    EG - I suspect fat hen will be like that too - better nutitionally than spinach but tasting vile!

    Fluffy Muppet - of course you're much further along this path than me :) I suspect I won't be growing as many things as you either because I've got nowhere to put a greenhouse. I ate samphire in Mallorca. We'd just finished our mammal survey for the day and realised we were right in the middle of oodles of it. We had it lightly steamed with butter - delicious.

    Michelle - I'm putting the lists together and I'll give you a shout when they're available

    Maggi - I look forward to it and seeing you next week :)

    Anna - more to come soon!

    CG - luckily it wasn't a poisonous plant then. I love bamboo shoots - I wonder if I can use the black bamboo I'm growing up at the plot...

    Mark - hmm must try the millet beer, but I'm not so sure about the locusts. Thanks for the photo's - I've emailed you :)

    Susan - it's a great word isn't it? However, I'm fuming about the one near me today. The council's flail trimmed it and so most of the elderberry crop's gone that's within picking distance. They have a habit of doing this at totally the wrong time of the year - Grrrrr!

    Lisa - oh no!!!!!!!!! What are you going to do re veggie growing?

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  17. Maybe we could organise an Incredible Edibles carnival? Pick a plant or two for each issue, and then get everyone who has grown it to contribute? Pool everyone's knowledge :)

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  18. Fluffy Muppet,

    That's a great idea :)

    Dare we tackle some of the thorny food issues too?

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  19. Why not :) We can save the world with plants!

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  20. Emma - let's discuss at Fogroblome :)

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  21. Flighty - isn't it? Have a great weekend :)

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