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!