building a beautiful and bountiful world in collaboration with nature

Posts tagged ‘vegetables’

Celtuce and Other Unusual Foods

Celtuce busy growing

Celtuce busy growing with perennial kale

Like many gardeners and farmers, I have this love affair with seed catalogs every winter.  The descriptions of vegetable are often mouth-watering, their potentials amazing.  The veggie beds in my wintertime imagination are filled with astounding wonders.

I have heard rumours that our ancestors of hundreds or more years ago ate a much broader array of plant foods than we do.  The buffet they chose from had a selection that numbered in the hundreds or even thousands of veggies and fruits. Knowing as we do what amazing chemists the various members of the plant kingdom are, this means that the selection of nutritives available to our ancestors was huge.  Fine subtleties in a plant’s chemistry can also make a big difference in the information that is downloaded to our bodies.  With the number of species that most Americans now eat limited to less than 50, we aren’t getting the same quality of nutrition or the diversity of information to which our ancestors had access.

As a food grower, I can reverse that trend, so every year I trial varieties or species that are new to me.  Last year I experimented with Oka Hijiki, a Japanese green also called seaweed plant because it is loaded with minerals.  A wiry little plant, it was a nice extra in my salads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t save seed for it and have discovered that its seeds don’t seem to keep for long.  This year’s germination was very poor.  I will be growing more, once I acquire more seed.

One of this year’s experimental selections is Celtuce.  Lettuce.  Celery.  Celtuce is not a cross of the two, but was promised as delivering some of each flavor.  Lettuce it certainly is.  The early leaves are tasty, but it is the stalk of the plant that is the interesting part.  It grows quite long, compared to a lettuce, without bolting.  I’m not sure it delivers on the promise of celery flavor except in the mildest way.  I have found I like it peeled and sliced in rounds, then tossed in near the end of a saute with other veggies.  It adds a crunchy lettuce flavor where leaf lettuce doesn’t survive.

Jelly Melon is another of this year’s trial vegetables.  I will let you know what it’s like later in the season.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog and Seed Savers Exchange are my favorite sources for odd and unusual foods.

Let me know what new, rare, or plain oddball edibles you are growing!

The Territory Makes the Tomato

A farmer friend of mine, John Tecklin of Mountain Bounty Farm, attended the Terra Madre Conference in Italy several years ago.  Put on by the creators of the Slow Food movement, the conference is a gathering of small-scale farmers from around the world and is held concurrently with the Salone del Gusto, a gigantic celebration of artisanal foods.  I remember John’s enthusiasm on returning from Italy; he was renewed and re-inspired by all the small farms he had visited and all the delicious food he had eaten.

An article sent to me by a reader reminded me of one of the stories John came home with.  He was wandering the food aisles of the Salone del Gusto, drinking in the vast array of cheeses, sausages, breads, and vegetables.  One of the booths featured a tomato – red, plump, and vital – that attracted John.  After talking with the tomato’s grower for a time, John asked the farmer if it would be possible to get some seeds of this tomato.  The farmer looked at John with surprise, and asked where he lived.  When John told him California, the farmer explained that John could not grow this tomato.  It only grew in the one region in Italy where this farmer lived.

When I first heard this story, I didn’t really understand it.  It seemed that the tomato grower was simply being proprietary and didn’t want his beloved tomato to spread around the world.  Now, however, I understand that the tomato farmer was just being honest.  He understood a great truth about the relationship between a thing – including a tomato – and its environment:  They are inseparable.

Had John taken seeds of this tomato home and planted them, he would have grown a different tomato.  The science of epigenetics has discovered that cells are in a constant conversation with their environment.  This conversation often leads to changes in the genetic material, the DNA, of the cell.  A tomato growing in the climate, soils, and water of California will not be the same as a tomato grown in the climate, soils, and water of Italy, even if they start out with the same DNA, because California is not Italy.

This is a concept that winegrowers have long known, and the word they use to describe it is terroir.  Now vegetable growers and chefs are discovering it as well, and they are beginning to form partnerships that celebrate and develop the unique flavors grown in each unique place on Earth.

My thanks to Anna for this link:  Chef David Kinch: Partnership of Restaurant and Farm.

Charcoal Follow-up

Happy May Day!  It has been the most beautiful spring this year.  Warm days interspersed with a few cooler, rainy ones.  The grass is growing tall.  Roses are already flowering.  And there are so many amazing shades of green everywhere I look.  The young grape vines are a lime green.  The rosemary is deep forest green.  The lavender and artichoke are gray-green.  The kale is a deep blue-green, and there seems to be a million shades in between all of those easy to name greens.

Today I mostly want to report back on my charcoal mini-experiment.  Here again are the photos of the newly pricked out Komatsuna plants.  Crushed charcoal (about 1 teaspoon) was added to the 3 right side pots of each 6 pack.

Here are photos of the same plants 2 weeks later.

There is no noticeable difference. Now this is nowhere near big enough of a sampling to be definitive, but I do think it helps clarify where and when charcoal is helpful.  My potting soil mix is one half of a commercial blend that contains some worm castings and one half my own homegrown compost.  It’s a rich mix and clearly the charcoal couldn’t make it any better.  This may be true in general of well cared for temperate soils with a high humus content.  Getting that humus to stick around in tropical soils is a real trick – which is why the biochar makes such a huge difference to those soils.  Concentrating on good composting techniques and heavy mulching may be equally effective and easier in northern latitudes.

The charcoal is a free extra resource for us and we’ll continue to use it around our woody perennials – the fruit and nut trees, currants and blueberries, for example.  At this point, however, I wouldn’t go out of my way to make it.  Compost and mulch are still the number one priorities for building living soils in this area.

What experiments are you trying in your gardens this spring?  How are they going?