Expanding the food repertoire

Was talking to a neighbour recently and the topic of “food familiarity” came up.  You know… that thing where you grow something edible but never end up eating it because you don’t really know what to do with it. 

Yakon and Butch

Yakon (foreground), custard apple (right), luffa (back). "Butch" the butcher bird stands guard.

Custard apples and yakon are two things I had no idea about before The Creek.  Yes, OK, everyone knows what a custard apple is, but I didn’t.

And yakon – when we first came here, the woman who used to live here showed us around.  She went for a quick scramble in the garden and pulled out what I thought was a large potato.  She cut it into bits and offered us some to eat – raw.   Obviously, it wasn’t a potato, it was a yakon.

Yakon is like potato that tastes like apple.  And luckily, it grows like a weed around here.  Once we got over the thought of eating raw something that looked like a potato – I’m embarrassed to say it took nearly a year! – it became our favourite accompaniment to cheese and crackers.  We also have it steamed, or in soup, or just as a snack.  We usually peel ours because it’s hard to scrub the outside free of dirt etc, but probably all the nutrients are in the peel and we’re missing out on the best bit.  If you know about that sort of thing, please leave a comment.

By now, we’re pretty much self sufficient in vegies, except for tomatoes and potatoes, which we stuffed up this year by not giving them sufficient sun or drainage.  (Next year!) But what’s really helped is learning to eat all those things we wouldn’t think to eat if we were in the habit of just buying what we needed.  We’ve added to our salads beetroot leaves, mustard leaves, young carrot tops and the young shoots of Commelina cyanea (not to be confused with the similar Tradescantia spp) and of scrambling lily (Geitonoplesium cymosum).  Our tea selection has broadened to include nettles, comfrey (yes, I know, not too much) and lemon myrtle leaves.  Our stir fries now sometimes include Jew’s ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae and A. cornea), young luffa, young gila, kale, yakon, nettles.

Most of those things came quite naturally.  As soon as we heard it was edible, we tried it.  But the nettles took a little thought – you can’t just harvest a couple of nettles with your bare hands (grasping the nettle, so to speak), so you need a good long sleeve you can pull over your hand, or some gloves.  And then the thought of putting something that stings in your mouth…well.  And we still have a way to go.  We actually have a lot of taro, cassava and arrowroot growing, but have yet to take advantage of their nutritional blessings.  We want to be really concentrating when we try the cassava, which is reputed to cause cynaide poisoning if not appropriately prepared.


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