Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rose Hips and Feijoa, or ornamentals with a surprise

I'm on a quest. 

I want to forage and eat at least one thing every week for a year.  I live in the flatlands – so yes, there's a lot of concrete here.  But there's also an amazing amount of fruit, wild greens, artichokes, nuts, and cacti. It's just a perspective change to have it pop out at you. 

I hear people talk about how disconnected from nature they feel living in the city, but foraging is a great way to connect with the seasons right here.  At the same time, you're eating locally, and saving money.

The Bay Area growing season is amazing – crops ripen throughout the year, so there's always something to pick.  You don't need an off-the-hook garden; the key is to shift your vision so that you see it all around you.

I've been amused recently to realize that some of the ornamental plants people use in their yards actually produce edible parts, most of which go to waste.

I can eat my rose?

Roses are a great example.  This is the time of year when the withered blooms give way to a bright red seed pod – a rose hip.  Roses are in the same family as the apple, and they look a little like tiny apples. Be sure that the roses haven't been treated with any nasty fungicides or pesticides, and they are otherwise edible. They're high in Vitamin C. 

I had big plans to make rose hip jelly, and I still will someday, but for these rose hips I decided to simply dehydrate them and use them in teas. For fresh rose hip tea, steep 4-8 hips in a cup of boiling water for about 10 - 15 minutes.   With dehydrated rose hips, you need 2-4 hips.  It makes a tangy, tart tea with a pink tinge.

The Feijoa, my new favorite fruit

Just down the block from my house, a friend clued me in to a whole hedge made of Feijoa or Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana), which is native to South America (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay).  People describe the taste as a cross between a pineapple, strawberry and guava, but I think it tastes like an all- natural version of sour gummy worms!  I know that sounds disgusting, but trust me, it's amazing.  It's this complex flavor with intense sweetness and sourness mixed together, coming at you in layers.  If you can get your hands on these, do it. 

The owner planted them for their beautiful flowers and grey green leaves, and probably the fact that they grow well with almost no care here.  He doesn't want the fruit, so they're all up for grabs. 

Feijoas ripen slowly over time, so you can't just harvest the whole bush at once.  You also have to wait for them to fall off – if you pick them from the bush before they are ripe, they won't achieve the same flavor.  I have seen references to peeling feijoas, but that seems wholly unnecessary to me. The peel is thin and inoffensive, and I've been happily eating them whole.

I rode my bike past the bush this morning, and realized that I hadn't harvested it in a while. There were a bunch on the ground, but I was stopped by my lack of a collecting bag.  However, I did have an extra pair of pants with me, so I just tied a knot at the end of one leg and went to town.  Purdue's horticultural department reports that they are high in pectin, so I plan to make jelly with them eventually.  However, I'm almost certain that this round of feijoas will disappear before I have that chance.

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