Cooking (and Hopefully Growing) Lampascioni

We moved a few months back. Over the last year I’ve received a few threatening emails. I’m not talking about, “You’re a jerk, I hate your stupid website” type emails. No, these threatened my person in a clearly violent manner. I knew that when we moved I’d be more protective about where we lived and I have hemmed and hawed since then about how much information to reveal about my new neighbourhood.

Over the months I’ve discovered that I hate withholding like this. Where I live factors heavily in my gardening experience. As a writer, I am not interested in writing disconnected third person how-to’s. Gardening is a personal experience that is unique to each of us. I am always careful to include the personal, even when I am contracted to write a third person how-to.

Not being able to talk about the neighbourhood has been torture. I find that whenever I have to cut myself off from a topic, that’s the one thing I want to talk about. Keeping these details off the board has created a huge block. There have been times when I felt I couldn’t write about anything at all. So I’ve decided that I will talk about my neighbourhood. I need to protect our safety, but I also need to be free to write.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way… We’ve moved north in Toronto to Corso Italia, a neighbourhood I had not explored in my nearly 20 years in this city. As you can gauge from the name, it’s home to a predominantly Italian population, although I am finding that Brazilian Portuguese are a large group, too. As you can imagine, there are a lot of food gardeners here. There are plenty of front yard food gardens and pots of peppers growing in sunny store windows. Now you know why I gave the new yard an Italian name!

About a month into living here, I discovered a small Italian food grocer that has since become my favourite. On our first visit, I spotted a large bin of bulbs outside the store. When I asked what they were, the grocer replied, wild onion. But they didn’t look like onions. I asked him to describe how they are prepared and he went into a lengthy process of boiling and water changing that sounded daunting. I had to try them!

When I got home, I did a quick search online and discovered that wild onion are also known as Lampascioni or Vampagioli. They are actually a type of muscari (aka grape hyacinth) that grows wild in the Puglia region of Italy. Apparently, when onions were not available, people would dig up the bitter muscari bulbs to use in their place. They became a regional delicacy that are prepared seasonally.


The bulbs secrete a very bitter goo and must be boiled endlessly to make them palatable. That night, I tried cooking up the batch I bought. After cooking, I doused them in salt, vinegar, and olive oil. Mine weren’t bad, but in the future I will change the water a few times throughout the cooking process to further reduce the bitterness.

Within just a month of switching neighbourhoods, I had already learned about a new edible plant. Who knows what I will discover once the growing season starts.


I went back to the store a few days later and bought the best looking bulbs I could find in the bin for planting. This muscari (Muscari comosum) has an absolutely gorgeous flower, and the price from a greengrocer is a lot cheaper than one would find in a garden centre. I bought a bag of bulbs for about 3 bucks. I’m not certain these plants can withstand my climate. A lot of the information I found had them hovering around zone 6 and higher. Since we were also planting awfully late in the season (it snowed 2 days after we planted) and in a new garden that is still unfamiliar to me, I set aside more than half of the bulbs and planted them in pots. I potted them in gritty, well-draining soil meant for cactus and succulents and I put them in about 3 or 4 inches deep, and packed them in more tightly than I did outdoors (just a few inches apart). Those plants have been sitting on the floor of my unheated porch, where the soil has likely frozen a few times, if only temporarily.

I can’t wait to see what they do (if anything) come spring!

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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11 thoughts on “Cooking (and Hopefully Growing) Lampascioni

  1. Wow! Those are worth growing for the flower alone. Great that they are also edible, I’ll have to keep an eye out for them in Italian produce stores.

  2. I can’t believe someone would do this to you – like seriously a nice gardening website? The world has become a scary and hate filled place and it makes my heart sad. It also makes me angry that it would mar such a happy time for you.

    We moved to Corso Italia from the east end in April – our first house and we love it too. I love the shops on St. Clair like the portuguese grocer Tavora and being so close to Wychwood barns and The Stop. I love our elderly neighbours who see me carrying home tomato seedlings and tell me it’s too soon to plant them and that they can take me to their favourite place to get better tomato plants.

    I’m especially loving the mix of cultures in the neighbourhood and how the stores sell a mix of Italian, Latin American and Portuguese products. The little butcher shop closest to us has a sign up in the window saying “we speak Italian, Portuguese and Spanish” and I can get everything from proscuitto and fresh ricotta to tortillas, achiote paste and queso fresco!

    Also you should trek over to International Cheese you can get fresh ricotta and bocconcini still warm from the factory outlet.

    So welcome to the neighbourhood and I for one look forward to reading more of your adventures!

  3. How fascinating! Muscari are one of my favorites – for all the forms they come in, and for how the usual grape hyacinths hang out all winter with clean, green leaves in the snow. And… that is awful about the threatening emails. May you stay safe and sound now, and thoroughly enjoy exploring your new neighborhood.

  4. These look lovely! I will try to grow them here in Texas this spring…and see if they’ll make the trek up to Philadelphia during the impending summer relocation I am about to embark upon! I second the emotion that I am sorry to hear that people have been taking out their fear and anger on you….and seriously, here??? I love the writings and the tips and the jokes and the photos and the stories that you share for all of us here…your website keeps me in love with the spirit of gardening and of sharing info with others, even if I don’t know them. Thanks….and enjoy your new home!

  5. I have never heard of eating Muscari bulbs. They are very hardy and easy to grow. I have them in my zone 3 garden. I know what you mean about wanting to include personal anecdotal writing in blog posts and other writing. It must have been horrible to receive those threatening emails as well as how is has cramped your writing style. I hate it that a few nasty people can spoil everything for the majority of us.

  6. What an interesting delicacy! It’s terrible that people would threaten you personally… for having a GARDENING blog. Sheesh.

    Anyway, welcome to the neighbourhood – no wonder you were looking at the Little House. We’re nowhere quite so nice: just east of Dufferin, closer to Eglinton, but we swim at JJPiccinnini sometimes. :-)

  7. How fabulous to move to a place with such wonderful shops and mix of cultures. So sorry you have been harassed. Seems so unlikely for a gardening blog. I have lots of grape hyacinths and love the way they multiply. They’re so pretty and cheer everything up. Good luck with eating and planting your bulbs and enjoy your new home and garden. . .it’s very exciting, I’m sure.

  8. I’m so sorry that you went through such a horrible ordeal. Hopefully you can put it all behind you now.

    I had no idea that Muscari (any variety) was edible. Incredible.

    I have a question for you. A number of years ago I grew a variety of spinach that had a buttery taste. I “thought” it was called butter spinach. I can’t find it anywhere. Have you heard of such a spinach and do you know it’s proper name? I was hoping to plant some again this year. Thanks.

  9. People are lame sometimes. And apparently have a lot of time on their hands. Also, I was naive to never even consider that you would be dealing with that… I guess in my head I thought only people like politicians & celebrities would have to experience that, because really, what could you have said or done that rubbed them the wrong way?

    But your new neighborhood sounds lovely, and makes me want to move to Canada… it seems like cultures are much better preserved there than in America…

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