Senses - Taste
Good enough to eat - December 2021
A gardener friend in the Marche only grows plants which are edible. Does that mean that she has a boring garden? Or just an ‘orto’ vegetable plot. Not at all: the range of plants and fruit and flowers is amazing and a real joy.
With the season now turning to food and festivity, I took a ‘tour’ around my garden (both in time and space) to see what there might be there for me to eat - or for our feathered friends to peck on.
Fruits I find in the garden at the moment are brightly coloured if not tasty. There are lots of berries on the hawthorn, cotoneaster and pyracantha but I leave these for the birds and ‘feast’ on their rich colours.
Juniper is a native shrub and the black cones of Juniperus comunis are used to flavour meat. The red cones of Juniperus oxycedrus are pressed for oil.
Poncirus (Citrus trifoliata) is a useful citrus because it is frost resistant: the fruit is very bitter but I read that it has uses. Lemons do not like to be at less than 4 degrees and so they need to be brought indoors - this is when they are producing fruit. Vitamin C just when we need it most.
Rosehips make a syrup rich in vitamin C which I remember from childhood. Only species roses such as Rosa canina can form hips in autumn; the hybrids rarely do and I don’t know if they are edible.
Pomegranate of course needs no introduction.
In blossom at the moment is the loquat (nespolo, Eriobotrya japonica) which fruits in early spring. Native to a region of China where the weather is totally different from ours, I wonder why it became so popular here. Kaki (Diospyros kaki, persimmon) is also native to East Asia and the one in my garden hardly ever fruits but suffers badly from our cold winters. I would dig it up but it is a central feature of the garden.
There are other, less familiar edible plants in fruit now. Lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus) is used for mastic resin (even though the berries look appetising). Capers fruit where they grow in the town walls. Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) is native to our woods and is both in flower and fruit now. It is the national tree of Italy because it has red (berries), white (flowers) and green (leaves) together.
Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana) has a very attractive flower in spring and is supposed to need a cold spell in winter if it is to set fruit - which suits us here in Umbria. I have never tried to cook or eat the fruit: they resemble a true guava but less plump and are supposed to have a sweet taste of pineapple, hence the name.
Some fruiting trees are perhaps nicest when in bloom: blackthorn, almond, apple, pear, apricot all have lovely blossom in spring. But for me the most beautiful of all has to be quince. Its fuzzy golden fruits are also a joy, if a challenge to cook.
And don’t forget the edible flowers of daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) in June and the pure gold stamens of saffron (Crocus sativus) in October.
There are edible flowers still in bloom now. Rosemary blooms twice per year both in autumn and in spring; borage is flowering although our Pimms drinking is over for the year; and nasturtium defies the frost with last flowers.
What a feast!
Many of these articles first appeared in the Castiglione del Lago monthly newsletter “Qua e là” edited by Priscilla Worsley
All text and photographs © Yvonne Barton unless stated otherwise