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Archive for the ‘In the Garden’ Category

Green tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)

Green tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)

As much as one may like the idea of treading a fairly harmonious path in a life that seeks to engage with other plants and animals, any vegetable grower is typically involved in some spiteful battle or other with insects throughout the year. Not all of them, but certainly a loathed few. At the moment, it being summer in Sydney, my most recent nemeses have been Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni). They have put an end to my tomato crop (Solanum lycopersicum).

This year, there will be no big canning session filling jars of passata and no big colourful salads of tomato chunks strewn with basil leaves and light salty white cheese. Fruit fly has hit my two big frames of tomatoes hard and I have cut them down (even the cherry tomatoes). For the big toms, it was an ambitious idea from the outset, with neither pesticide nor organic control (I just can’t go for the poison of the former or the expense and effort of the latter) or dumb luck to aid me.

I first thought I was admitting defeat, but with a kilo of green tomatoes per sacrificed plant, I have found that I am able to take some solace in the idea that, to some extent, I am simply quitting while ahead. Cleaned up, through cutting out the infested fruit or parts thereof, I have at least salvaged the wherewithal for enough green tomato chutney to last a year (and a tomato hot sauce which isn’t too far off a mix of this chutney and previously described recipes for plum ketchup, crab apple jelly, and chilli jam, with a big bunch of extra chillies for good measure).

The lesson learned for next year: Plant early varieties of tomatoes; as early as possible; only small cherries and cherry romas; hope from some ripe ones before new year; and then on the first of January, harvest the lot and make another batch of chutney.

Cleaning the infested crop – some were untouched, some crawling with larvae…

Cleaning the infested crop – some were untouched, some crawling with larvae…

… but it all cleaned up into a sizable haul

… but it all cleaned up into a sizable haul

Recipe

This recipe is a mix of fairly standard green tomato chutney recipes from Australia and New Zealand (and very probably Britain and elsewhere). It is scaled to 1kg of green tomatoes in terms of ingredients to be easily adjusted. The big room for movement is with chillies and garlic – if you like them, you could increase fivefold.

Ingredients

Green tomatoes (g)                                1000

Onions (g)                                             200

Cooking apples (g)                                 200

Sugar (Demerara / muscovado) (g)          200

Vinegar (malt / cider / wine) (ml)              450

Salt (Tblsp)                                           1

Sultanas (g)                                           100

Garlic (cloves)                                       5

Chillies (hot, medium sized)                    2

Ginger (grated fresh) (g)                          12

Spice (all spice, turmeric, coriander) (g)   11

Process

Heave it all in a pot and simmer, uncovered and free to reduce, for an hour or two. Ladle into scalded jars. If after getting most of the chutney out, the last couple of jars worth seem a bit runny, pile in a heap of chillies and garlic and keep cooking it down for a darker, fiery version. They say to leave it for a few weeks to meld, but I would call that optional.

Part of a year’s supply of green tomato chutney

Part of a year’s supply of green tomato chutney

Green tomato chutney (with some plum and green tom hot sauce as well) and eggs

Green tomato chutney (with some plum and green tom hot sauce as well) and eggs

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Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a summer ‘weed’ that is found through much of the world. Central Australian Aboriginal people used to (and a very few occasionally still do) wait for it to seed and pile it up in mounds; after some good dry desert heat, the withered plants can be pulled off to reveal a concentration of the tiny but nutritious seeds below. Throughout northern India and through to the Middle East, it is not just a foraged ‘welcome weed’ (or ‘volunteer plant’), it is even grown as a crop for its leaves (as it once was through a lot of Europe as well). Purslane is said to have the highest omega 3s of any vegetable and is a sure contender for that increasingly tedious epithet of ‘superfood’. This status, as well as being common in Central Mexican cuisine (where it is known as verdolagas) is said to be getting it increasingly on the food list rather than just the weed list in America. But across most of Australia it is simply a plant; one of those green things in the ground; neither worth eradicating nor using. It will be gone by winter after all.

Nonetheless, right now in mid-summer, purslane is doing very well across a good part of Australia. Basically, if you are looking for it, it is everywhere; the challenge is really only to find some growing in soil that you can trust. This particular harvest was essentially a matter of opportunism – which to my mind is utterly fundamental to foraging (in any sense). I was doing a survey in one of the back blocks of one of western Sydney’s old Olympic venues. I had already decided to do a saag for dinner and to stop off at one the small Indian food shops (which abound in much of Sydney’s west) to buy spices

I gather that saag basically means ‘greens’ (in Punjabi, Urdu and/or Hindi), and by inference, in the kitchen, it is a curry thereof. There was also some volunteer native spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes) doing so well under the citrus that I needed to cut it back whether for eating or not. Then there was some silverbeet (chard; Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla) that was close to giving up in the summer heat and our sandy soil (in which I would probably be better to intentionally grow purslane at this time of year); and also sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) that is getting by as a welcome enough ‘weed’ in the shade of intentional crops. Amaranth, with each passing week of summer, is also making more of an appearance. But it is the purslane, a genuine north Indian favourite, that is the forage that started the ball rolling.

Sow thistle or puha (Sonchus oleraceus)

Sow thistle or puha (Sonchus oleraceus)

Native spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes)

Native spinach (Tetragonia tetragoniodes)

It doesn’t matter too much which green, and perhaps the more the better (purslane, spinach, chard / silver beet, mustard greens, kale, amaranth, fat hen, mallow, chickweed, native spinach, beetroot tops, cress, sow thistle, etc, etc)

It doesn’t matter too much which green, and perhaps the more the better (purslane, spinach, chard / silver beet, mustard greens, kale, amaranth, fat hen, mallow, chickweed, native spinach, beetroot tops, cress, sow thistle, etc, etc)

The recipe is wonderfully simple and suits just about any green you can lay your hands on, foraged, grown or bought.

Recipe:

Start by toasting the whole spices – mine were whole cumin seeds, coriander seeds and a light touch of peppercorns, fenugreek and cardamom seeds which went into the mortar with dried chillies once toasted to fragrant and then joined by powdered turmeric. You can add whatever else blows your hair back among cinnamon, cloves, ginger, fenugreek leaves, etc – only giving whole seeds the toasting though.

Next, lightly sautee some onions in butter (ghee if you can) or oil and then pile the garlic, spices and chopped greens in and stir on low heat until wilted to a decent tender that should coincide with golden brown onions and garlic that isn’t burning to sticky and/or bitter (10 minutes or so), adding small amounts of liquid if required. I am also inclined to add some precooked chickpeas (kind of like canned ones but tastier because they are slow cooked in stock) – which probably makes it chana saag.

The handy thing with saag, is that with some cubed cheese you have saag paneer (using actual paneer (a style of Indian cheese)) if you have it, otherwise cottage cheese, or queso fresco (or fetta if you give mind to it being salted while paneer isn’t), but in any case not your everyday fatty yellow cheese); with some cubed meat you have saag gosht; and with hard boiled egg you have anda saag. In our house of both vegetarians and ominivores, with saag we can meet our different dietary inclinations with additions at the end rather than with entirely separate dishes. While there is something of an assumption that you would serve it over rice, the addition of the chickpeas or something else to bulk it up makes this optional. A side serve of good chutney (or salsa verde) is a good touch.

Australian forager’s saag: The roo, cubed and cooked sous vide at around 70 degrees with butter and herbs for the better part of a day is browned off and stirred in for the meat eaters (saag gosht), while the vegos still get a good feed from cheese (saag paneer) and/or chickpeas (chana saag). I don’t know what to call it when it is all in there…

Australian forager’s saag: The roo, cubed and cooked sous vide at around 70 degrees with butter and herbs for the better part of a day is browned off and stirred in for the meat eaters (saag gosht), while the vegos still get a good feed from cheese (saag paneer) and/or chickpeas (chana saag). I don’t know what to call it when it is all in there…

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Kumara (Ipomoea batatas), also known as sweet potato

Kumara (Ipomoea batatas), also known as sweet potato

If you really want to grow kumara (sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas) productively, you need to give it some decent sun and plant in an orderly fashion in rich rows or round mounds. It will grow well enough in poor soil in the shade and form a decent ground cover (in summer), but it won’t put anything like the same amount of saved energy into nice edible tubers. It all makes sense when you think about it; and it’s almost as if the plant were doing some thinking about it too. In the shade, the plant ‘thinks to itself’ that it is best off if it musters whatever energy it can and invest it in long searching vegetative vines and send them off to find a sunnier place; tangled up in itself and others, up trees, up the fence, over the fence, wherever. Kind of like most of my twenties – off on an adventure seeking some good times over the horizon and setting next to nothing aside for later. If placed in full sun on the other hand, it ‘realises’ that it is on a pretty good wicket right where it is and sets about putting away some savings in the form of solid starchy investment.

As a grower, I should theoretically be like a conservative bore with no time for the frippery of the shady gallavanters and turn my back on them in favour of hard-working kumara families in the sun. I’m not sure why, but I somehow feel that the analogy is drifting a little political, by the way. I should then harvest (tax) those in the shade as much as they will bear, believing that if they fail as a result then they just weren’t cut out for it; but ensure that my harvest of those in the sun might seem deceptively as if it was their welfare more than my own that was my aim.

Well, I don’t vote that way, and I’m not gardening that way as it turns out, at least not with kumara. I foster it less as a crop than as a groundcover ornamental in the long shady garden down the side of the house where some subtropical fruit trees and passion vines are also plying a not (yet) particularly fruitful trade. It is not just shady along there, but poor, because I broke a cardinal rule by planting before I properly improved the soil (sand actually, I am on an actual sand dune) and there is also a steady sneaky pilfering of nutrients by the neighbour’s established trees. But still, the kumara hangs out, a little scrappy and certainly straggly, especially in winter, amid a ragtag bunch of Vietnamese mint, lemon balm, parsley (which grows quite delicately, looking like chervil, in the shade), sorrel and some creeping thyme. In winter, some baby bok choy seeds cast around do a small and slow job of filling in some gaps in place of the withering kumara as a surprisingly nice ornamental, right through to some lovely spring flowers if left uneaten.

Although very scrappy now in very early spring, by mid-summer kumara can form a great rambling groundcover

Although very scrappy now in very early spring, by mid-summer kumara can form a great rambling groundcover

And I don’t really harvest the kumara properly speaking. I just bandicoot a little. The verb ‘to bandicoot’ is pretty much self-explanatory, assuming that you know what bandicoots do (long-nosed ones, Perameles nasuta, around here). They sniff about, scratch a bit of a divot and stick their snout in, making a distinctive conical hole with it, and pull out a little food from here and there. Admittedly, for real bandicoots, it is mostly invertebrates, but it also includes the occasional tuber. In addition to kumara, bandicooting is particularly well suited to getting in early at some new potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), and it also works with a lot of other tubers as well (Queensland arrowroot, Canna edulis, being the main one of mine)

Unlike bandicoots, I then also re-enact the birth of farming with my kumara. With a tuber pulled out, foraged more than farmed, I dig down a little further into the sand (which goes off to the ‘soil factory’ that is the chook run, to be enriched with chook-turned compost and poo), replace it with compost and some kumara stem dipped in rooting powder, and the whole process can just keep rolling on; pretty unproductively because of the location, but with a lovely sustainable aesthetic to it. With a bit of welfare that includes short-term feeds (a disproportionate share of worm farm juice so that those in the sandiest spots almost grow hydroponically) and long-term investment (the sand-compost replacements), conditions have improved markedly over the first year out there in the Bohemian bandicooting quarter of the garden. This summer, I am expecting quite a show.

Freshly bandicooted kumara

Freshly bandicooted kumara

Kumara stems, with a couple of de-leafed nodes in the water and no more than a few leaves up top, in a jar with water and a little rooting powder, quickly make new roots. These are then planted with some compost where you’ve done some bandicooting and the cycle rolls on. I started with 6 of these a year ago and have multiplied my stock tenfold. A few bandicooted kilos of kumara have simply been a little bonus along the way.

Kumara stems, with a couple of de-leafed nodes in the water and no more than a few leaves up top, in a jar with water and a little rooting powder, quickly make new roots. These are then planted with some compost where you’ve done some bandicooting and the cycle rolls on. I started with 6 of these a year ago and have multiplied my stock tenfold. A few bandicooted kilos of kumara have simply been a little bonus along the way.

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I forage for sea snails (see previous posts on paua, cartrut snailsabalone and turban snails). It is a bit fiddly and they aren’t all to everyone’s taste, but I love it. For one thing I love snorkelling and so the gathering is no effort; and for another, as an archaeologist, shell middens (the remains of pre-1788 Aboriginal seaside foraging) are my specialist thing. For years, this midden-love has driven me to keep my foraged shells; piles of them in the garden and at the bush block and bags of them on the shelf in my office. But now I am using them up.

From foraged sea snails I get meat and shells

From foraged sea snails I get meat and shells

I have recently acquired chickens, six of them, and I want them to knock out an egg most days, each one obviously with a shell. So they need calcium, and I have a whole lot that turned out to be ready and waiting for them in the form of the seashells. I crush them between bricks and they eat any piece small enough to get down their gullet. My dad grew up on a chook farm and the common standard of using oyster grit that he knew 60 years ago as a lad is still in practice today; I just have a foraged version.

Shells go into chickens and shells come out of chickens

Shells go into chickens and shells come out of chickens

Then I get eggshells. Unfortunately they don’t come with the pearly nacre of a turban snail or the rainbow reflections of an abalone shell, but they are nonetheless nice and strong. While some folk will feed these back to the chooks, I have the seashells for that. So I boil, dry and crush the eggshells to feed them to the puppy instead. You see, she still just has her baby teeth and can’t really make much of a dent in a bone and meanwhile has fast growing bones of her own. So she needs calcium too. For most pups these days, this comes in the processed food, but with me feeding her on real meat and vegetables as much as I can, I need to add calcium; and some of it comes in the form of powdered egg shells.

It is a pretty good system if you ask me, and I still get the choice bits: Sea snail meat, fresh eggs and a healthy dog.

As chook owners do, we eat a lot of eggs and accumulate a lot of shells; these are boiled, oven dried (avoiding salmonella risks) and crushed

As chook owners do, we eat a lot of eggs and accumulate a lot of shells; these are boiled, oven dried (avoiding salmonella risks) and crushed

The crushed shells go with meat (plus kumara, carrots, legumes, vegetable oil, etc) into home-made dog food

The crushed shells go with meat (plus kumara, carrots, legumes, vegetable oil, etc) into home-made dog food

I’m liking the idea of sea snail mince cooked for a long time sous vide these days and put in pies with a mornay sauce; but for the sake of this post, a sea snail omelette with sour cream and hot sauce also works

I’m liking the idea of sea snail mince cooked for a long time sous vide these days and put in pies with a mornay sauce; but for the sake of this post, a sea snail omelette with sour cream and hot sauce also works

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The scene of my domestication

The scene of my domestication

You may notice from the timing of the archives for this blog that things slowed down a little on the foraging front, at least with regard to writing about it. I’m still very much at it, but at the same time I’ve been domesticated. I came to own a home and it came with a modest piece of sand dune out the back, which a year and several tonnes of compost later is the start of a food garden. There are fruit trees, thriving beds of vegetables, chickens, a dog and a beehive ready to populate this spring. Some of my foraging has even turned a little domestic – like valuing foraged molluscs for the shell grit I can crush for the chooks as well as the meat for me, using kelp stems off the beach for dog chew toys, and scavenging free mulch and cow manure for the garden beds. The last time I foraged native spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides), it was to replant it in my garden – and that is entirely definitive of domestication.

My fellow domesticates: 2 Leghorn crosses, 2 Australorps, 2 Rhode Island Reds (Gallus gallus domesticus) amid a future food forest and feeding on vegie waste; and ‘Bugle’, the Brittany, hunting dog (Canis familiaris) in training

My fellow domesticates: 2 Leghorn crosses, 2 Australorps, 2 Rhode Island Reds (Gallus gallus domesticus) amid a future food forest and feeding on vegie waste; and ‘Bugle’, the Brittany, hunting dog (Canis familiaris) in training

Working away in my changed circumstances, I have come to a recent realisation of how much more foraging and agriculture have in common than either of them have in common with the lifestyle of simply buying all your food. The ‘us and them’ of the standard view is of ‘us’ as modern western society arm-in-arm with agriculture as distinct from a foraging ‘them’ of either the past or the primitive. My ‘domestication’ really has been revolutionary in one sense, but in some ways it has also changed things very little. I no longer really forage greens, but grow them instead; even the edible garden weeds get a miss, although partly because right now in winter/spring it is mostly chickweed (Stellaria media) and it is such a big hit with the chooks. I’m just as inclined towards fishing and hunting; and foraged fruit retains the same appeal or maybe more – partly because my trees are all just one year or less in the ground and give me very little. The autumn harvest of pine mushrooms (Lactarius deliciosus) will hopefully always be a firm fixture. When I think about, it’s really just more like old-fashioned country foodways. The growing and the foraging are part of the same package. Regardless of who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’, the two parties in the modern western world can be divided into those who very much want to get their hands dirty while bringing in their food and those who only really trust it wrapped in plastic in exchange for money.

I’ve previously discussed (e.g. here and here) how there is the concept of a continuum of foraging to farming along which people have shifted through history, incrementally between individuals and between generations, and not always in the same direction. Perhaps this foraging-to-farming transition thing doesn’t mean so much to you; and perhaps I make too much of it because as an archaeologist it is viewed as the process that pretty much defines the transformation to human modernity. But for someone like me for whom it is kind of a big deal, it is then also a very big deal to realise that to just end up standing there at the end of the day in your work clothes in a queue at Woolies or Coles (Walmart, Aldi, Sainsburys, depending on where you are) is to exist in a world that (as far as your personal engagement goes) has left the continuum altogether. Sure, the production of the food is still obviously on it, perhaps often at the perverse end of heavily industrialised agriculture (with battery chickens as the ultimate perversity), but the individual consumer is not. I think that I embraced foraging so as to have as much of an actual engagement with the reality of food as I could, and now grow for precisely the same reason.

Opportunism is central to the success of humanity. I now have the opportunity to grow more than I ever did before, but still I will not readily pass up the opportunity for a good forage. Nonetheless, the same intrinsically human opportunism is what puts people in the supermarket queue, finding that they are able with just a small part of the cash from their labour to bring home far more food than they could possibly eat. In that context, we foragers and growers are wasting our time – what sort of fool spends ten days to save a couple of bucks on mustard? But ‘agency’, the ability and freedom to make choices, is also central to humanity.

For me, the ideal of paid working life is not to be able to buy the things that I might otherwise forage or grow, but to buy the time and the ability to be in a place to do that foraging and growing. That is my choice, and I am sure that I spend more money on it than the equivalent cost of the food. I can’t make enough mustard to get me to New Zealand to fish for all too occasional trout, but I do paid work for that (and, importantly, I enjoy it). There is also a mortgage now; and it hurts, so one thing that I need to get out of that is a garden full of veg; not to help pay the mortgage, but to justify it. And that leads to a really key thing that I have realised about domestication and the shift from foraging to farming – whether on the scale of human history or my own small personal experience: it is not just about where the food comes from, but also what people chain themselves to in order to get it. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins once described foragers as ‘the original affluent society’, referring to the fact that they might easily meet all their wants and needs, partly because those needs may be relatively few; whereas someone with infinite modern wants never can, and can therefore never be truly affluent at all. I admit that it is an unresolved logic, but still not without merit, that the desire to forage and grow your own food can somehow break the loop while living in a modern world with seemingly easy supermarket options. Taking ten days to make half a cup of mustard really may be the secret to affluence after all. I may have been domesticated, I may even have hooked up to one more chain, but I’m still not quite caged yet.

Vegie garden panorama

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A trug of fresh picked leaves and flowers to be dried for foraged tea

A trug of fresh picked leaves and flowers to be dried for foraged tea

I am fairly new to foraged teas, long having seen the world as having essentially two types of tea – normal tea (Camellia sinensis) and hippy tea (all the others). I’ve done little more than dabble with herbal teas before and so haven’t gotten around to foraging for them; and I don’t know anywhere that normal tea is growing wild. But now, initially for no more directed a health benefit than something before bed that tastes great and specifically isn’t tea with caffeine (or wine or whiskey), and then secondarily with some thought to tailored health benefits, I have been working up foraged herbal tea alternatives.

The currently favoured flavour is a mix I have been able to gather easily through spring and early summer that works as a smooth balance of mostly mint (Mentha spp.), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora). To this I usually add some other leaves that come along at the time, but that three-species foundation seems like it will be hard to beat.  Other additions have been for taste, health potential, or simply because they were there; like leaves of strawberry, mulberry, dandelion or nettle. The dehydrated leaves get 5 minutes steeping in a coffee plunger (dried leaf parts often crumble very small and the need to strain well makes a plunger perfect for the job) and served with a bit of honey stirred in and an optional sliver of lemon (or dried lemon zest). In months to come the available ingredients will change and so, no doubt, will the recipe.

A dehydrator tray full of foraged tea ingredients (in reality, different species are better off on their own trays because they dry at different rates)

A dehydrator tray full of foraged tea ingredients (in reality, different species are better off on their own trays because they dry at different rates)

There are some definite and proven health benefits and malady-specific treatments that are possible with herbal teas (along with a fair few that seem fanciful). This is something that foraged tea has in common with foraged weed eating, and so I take the same basic approach: First of all selecting based on availability and taste preference; then aiming generally to consume a little of a lot of different types and never one in excess; and finally picking up information along the way that might allow me to tweak consumption a little towards mine and my family’s particular nutritional needs (including some things better avoided).

For now, here is what has become my spring / summer holy trinity for foraged herbal tea:

Mint (Mentha spp.)

Mint (Mentha spp.)

Mint (Mentha spp.)

Mint tea is usually made from peppermint (M. piperita) and is reputed to be good for digestion and calming. Anti-cancer claims are also made, as well as warnings about messing with levels of hormones like testosterone. Mint has been a rampant ‘volunteer’ (what you call a weed when it is useful) in our community garden (until slayed by recent drought) and can be found invasively heading out from herb gardens in a lot of places. Once you find somewhere that mint is growing well, you would be likely to be doing the owner a favour by taking some away. Or if it is struggling, your harvest might be justified by meeting its common want of regular water – I have been watering a couple of stands I forage from during our current dry.

Chocolate mint

Chocolate mint

Fennel leaf (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel tea is usually based on seeds rather than leaves and is especially popular with lactating women – or more particularly those who would like to be lactating more than they are. Other reported benefits are for eyesight, mood, sex drive, digestion, the liver and your blood (in what way I cannot tell from claims as generic as ‘blood cleanser’ and ‘blood tonic’). The fennel that grows wild across many parts of the world and the bulb fennel grown in gardens are different varieties of the same species; you don’t use the wild ones for bulbs, but either work for tea.  Leaves and flowers have been a staple until recently, and seed foraging opportunities should begin within a few weeks.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)

Lemon myrtle is native in eastern Queensland, but grows fine in Sydney. It is the richest of all known sources of citral; which is that lemon grass / lemon verbena / lemonade ice block kind of lemon scent – something that I adore. In Sydney, lemon myrtle isn’t a hugely common garden species but it does occur here and there and is well worth planting either on your own place or in a public place that you can then forage from confident that few others will even know it is worth harvesting. It is not that distinctive a plant to look at, but one pinch of a leaf and a sniff and identification is assured. Other citral sources like lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) or lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) could alternatively take its place. Lemon myrtle in tea is one of those ones with too many health benefit claims to go through. I should be able to get leaves all year round, though they will get tougher in winter.

Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)

Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora)

Foraged tea

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Feral mustard greens (Brassica juncea):

Feral mustard greens (Brassica juncea):

At our community garden, people have tended mustard greens (Brassica juncea) as a vegetable sometimes, other times as green manure, but mostly because it now just pops up as a volunteer. For those who had something else in mind, it is then a weed. Mizuna (Brassica rapa nipposinica) also pops up, self-sown from bolted Asian salad green plantings. Same with bok choy (Brassica rapa chinensis), that I have also found cropping up as a weed in public reserves. In my herb garden, 3 volunteer heads of Chinese (napa or wombok) cabbage (Brassica rapa pekinensis) have also popped up this year after some was left to go to seed last year. This last one is the usual base for kimchi (spiced and salted Korean fermented cabbage), but all of the others can be used as well.

With a new sauerkraut crock (for German-style fermented cabbage, but Kimchi has the same process, just different ingredients), the previously sparsely used bounty of wild brassica greens has an invigorated welcome in my kitchen. A kitchen which also has the requisite fish sauce, red pepper and flaky salt, after a delightfully inexpensive shop at a local Asian grocer (Usagi-ya, Bondi Junction, where the Korean owner seemed thrilled to be kitting out a novice kimchi maker). I am still using some bought Chinese cabbage as at least half of a mix including other brassica greens and other vegetables, because that, along with the low temperature lactic acid fermentation is what defines kimchi (according to the Codex Alimentarius).

Mustard greens (Brassica juncea) and Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa pekinensis), salting. This has about 1 cup of coarse salt to a huge head of Chinese cabbage and a good bunch of mustard greens, covered in water and then weighed down by a plate to be submerged for a day before joining other ingredients in the fermenting crock.

Mustard greens (Brassica juncea) and Chinese cabbage (Brassica rapa pekinensis), salting. This has about 1 cup of coarse salt to a huge head of Chinese cabbage and a good bunch of mustard greens, covered in water and then weighed down by a plate to be submerged for a day before joining other ingredients in the fermenting crock.

I have known I could easily start making kimchi, sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented food for some time (partly inspired by a great Tasmanian blog by a lady named Prue); just as I have known that it is tasty and very healthy; and I have known that an underutilised abundance of volunteer brassicas has being going to waste. I almost regret having taken so long to get to it, but for the enjoyment that I am getting right now out of the discovery of lacto-fermented foods.

The finished product: Partly foraged mixed brassica kimchi

The finished product: Partly foraged mixed brassica kimchi

Recipe

I’m not really giving one. The internet abounds with kimchi recipes, but shop around. On the one hand there are many copied, cobbled and concocted recipes from enthralled newbies like me; and there is a lot out there from Koreans (especially expats and descendants in America) who are heir to centuries of the real deal; not to deny that perhaps there are fusions that take the heart of the latter and tweak to the palate of the former.

I have started from the straightest Korean version: Admittedly it required the right Asian grocer for me; and I accept that there are other chilli powders and fresh chilli options, different fermented fish sauces (like Vietnamese nam pla) and lots of flaky salt around; but there are versions of these ingredients made in Korea and exported to speciality vendors for kimchi by the masters of it. I’d suggest trying more authentic variations first, and then work out toward fusion and experimentation. Leaf brassicas other than Chinese cabbage, those that grow feral and volunteer included, are generally on the authentic side of the variation spectrum. There is a well resolved balance of salt, sour, spice, umami, sweetness and crunchy texture to the Korean tradition that is well worth buying into. And making the most of cheap and freely foraged vegetables fits well with it too.

Traditionally fermented kimchi including foraged brassica greens

Traditionally fermented kimchi including foraged brassica greens

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