My final Globe and Mail article for the 2010 growing season was on growing and eating cardoon. Cardoon is lesser-known relative of the artichoke that is considered a delicacy in Mediterranean cuisine. Like artichokes it grows into a stately and somewhat dangerous thistle-like plant, but unlike artichokes you eat the stems, not the flower buds. It tastes a lot like artichoke, too.
Back in the spring, I started a few cardoon plants from seed, eventually growing one in my community garden plot and the other at my friend Barry’s.
His spot was ideal, whereas mine fell a bit short. My cardoon grew well enough, but stayed small. The plant at Barry’s got just want it needed and then some. It was really sunny, warm, protected, and in soil that was well watered but very free-draining. Mine was in rich soil with lots of organic matter, but watering was inconsistent (we ran out of water at the garden for a time), and the only spot I could afford was a bit cramped with a taller, more robust plant that shaded out the young cardoon a bit too much.
Last weekend we finally went to Barry’s to harvest the cardoon. It turned out to be the biggest I have ever seen. The yield from one plant was a lot more than I’ve seen in stores or purchased myself. We actually got enough out of it to make 2 batches of cardoon gratin (see recipe below), whereas a typical stalk yields only one.
Many cardoon growers say that going to the trouble of blanching the stems is unnecessary, but now that I have done it, I disagree. For such a large and fibrous plant the stalks we blanched were tender and delicious. I didn’t have to overcook them the way I’ve had to with some of the bunches I have purchased in the past.
I stick by my original assessment. Cardoon is a bit of a pain, and an absolute nightmare to prepare and cook, but it is a stunning plant and a delectable, but acquired taste. What can I say? Some of the best things in life don’t come easy.
Our new place has a cold, south-facing, window-filled mudroom. It was the porch at one time and still has the original stone window-ledge, window, brick facade, concrete floor, and functional doorbell. It’s not a very functional living space, but it makes a perfect cold greenhouse!
Since before the move, my poor plants have been suffering through weeks of neglect and life in less-than-ideal conditions. They’ve spent the last 10 days or so sitting in boxes; some getting too much light and others not enough. Several were in the cold room that shouldn’t have been, while others were baking in the heat without adequate water. A few were even stuck in the basement without any light or water at all! I haven’t lost anything completely, but I’ve come close and just about nothing looks like it did before we began the moving process.
The original window is still intact. This is the view from inside the living room.
I knew from the moment we saw the place that that mudroom would become my personal greenhouse. Last night, I finally had a chance to do a cursory setup of the plants along with a good watering and some pruning back of dead and broken branches. Hopefully the plants will bounce back from the abuse they’ve suffered. In the meantime, my friend Barry gifted me five new oxalis plants and a potted Scilla peruviana. Barry grows his in his cold greenhouse and I’m hoping mine will be just as happy in my setup.
When I went in there this morning to check on the plants, I was shocked and happily surprised by how earthy and greenhouse-like the room smelled. When those really cold, miserable days of winter start to get me down, I can putter around inside my little greenhouse, touch some greenery and smell fresh soil. This move is turning out to be better than I had imagined!
Today, as I was going through folders of photos I took through the spring and summer months, I came upon this cheap and cheerful water feature my friend Barry devised for his garden. It looked so classy, yet was unbearably simple and didn’t cost a thing.
All he did was take three terracotta saucers of varying sizes and stack them into one another. He set overturned plastic saucers underneath the top two layers to give them height. Brilliant!
The water feature did encourage a lot of wasps to a warm and dry part of the garden, which may not be your thing, but it turned out to be a simple and stylish way to encourage and keep these beneficials doing their work in the garden. No one has ever been stung.
Back in July I posted two photos of lithops plants my friend Barry grew from seed. Here’s one of the plants blooming for the first time! Worth the patient effort don’t you think?
Earlier this year I discovered that the fruit from the Kousa Dogwood tree (Cornus kousa) are edible and I’ve been waiting until the end of summer to get a taste.
The first fruit on my friend Barry’s tree are starting to ripen and I managed, over the weekend, to collect a few from out of the clutches of the neighborhood squirrels. The fruit are ripe and optimal eating when they turn from green to bright red, and from hard to squishy. You should be able to squish the orange fruit from the centre easily. That happens to be just how I ate my bounty. The skin is unpleasant tasting. It looks like a lychee, with the texture of some of my favourite tropicals, sugar apple and sour sop. The insides are bright orange and soft, with a couple of hard pits. It tastes like papaya.
I’ve read that there is a lot of variation between trees and varieties, so if you have the chance, I’d suggest trying fruit from a sampling of trees. The fruit I ate are small but tasty. They are from a landscape tree that is bred for the flowers, not the fruit. But there are varieties with much larger fruit that are worth searching out if you’re looking for more than a light snack.
- Paw Paw (Asimina triloba): A local and unusual tree fruit that is also coming into season.
- Search this site by the tag, Weird Edibles to find out about other unusual vegetables, herbs, and fruit to grow or forage.