“To see the world in a grain of sand”

The plots take us adventuring across all of human knowledge.

Food flowers help us learn about plant families and the care they need — but botany and agriculture are only the start of it! They easily connect us to history, geography, social studies, literature, culture, ecosystems, archaeology, and of course the culinary arts.

You probably recognize this squash flower – with a wild-bee pollinator! – but do you know the others here?

These are the flowers of a fava bean (Windsor bean, broad bean), grown from seed sent me by a UK filmmaker who collected them in Syria years ago and has grown them out in his allotment plot ever since.

The flowers are quite unlike those of beans from “the New World.” In the Middle Ages these were the only bean known in Europe.[1] Today, fresh pods are available in the market briefly in early summer.

Fava beans are a little work to prepare, but so delicious! Martha Stewart lists 15 recipes to try.

 

 

 

This “hedge” of coriander (cilantro) is in the same plant family as carrots and parsley (Apiaceae or Umbelliferae), easy to grow, and cultivated for a very long time. Archaeologists found coriander seed in Tutankhamen’s tomb (1300 BCE); the oldest find so far is from Israel about 6000 BCE. Imagine generations of households growing out coriander, handing a parcel of seeds on to their children, for eight thousand years!

Coriander “seed” (actually the fruit) has a citrus flavour that adds sparkle to curry powders or sausage, or is used whole in pickles. (Refrigerator pickles are a lovely way to use summer cucumbers.)

On the plots, the flowers attract beneficial insects that eat aphids

One of the prettiest food flowers is in the same family as marshmallow, hollyhock, and roselle (called sorrel in the Caribbean). Got it yet? Okra is believed to originate in “the Abyssinian [Ethiopian] center of origin of cultivated plants” along with melons, sesame, tef, and coffee. From there, people on the move took okra to northern Africa, Arabia, India, and beyond. Its culinary use was described by a traveller who visited Egypt in 1216.

Mature pods add a gluey thickness to soups: if you don’t like that, maybe you think you don’t like okra, but very young pods (“ladies’ fingers,” picked every day) lightly stir-fried have a tender crunch and a delicious green taste.


[1] Oddly, some people with circum-Mediterranean and African backgrounds have genetics that make fava beans toxic to them; if you’re one, you probably already know it. The condition used to be called favism, now “G6PD deficiency.”