Saturday, September 13, 2014

Walking, onions, and walking onions

One of the nicest gifts I've been given this year (in a ridiculously competitive field, let me tell you) was a 10kg sack of brown onions. Those onions came into my life late in May, and they kept us in onioniness right up until early September, when the last few began to sprout and I had to eat them quickly before they had a chance to win me over, get me planting them out under the Granny Smith, giving them names, and knitting them scarves.

I do grow an onion, of a sort. It's the Egyptian walking fellow. In Summer, he sends up a stalk laden with bulbils; the bulbils grow in the air, weigh the stalk down, make contact with the ground and start putting down roots - voila! new onions! It's a pretty nifty arrangement, saves raising onions from seed blahedy-blah, but, alas, it's not doing anything for my immediate onion supply: the Egyptian walkings are busily enjoying the Spring, with nary a thought of fattening their bulbs.

This year's Egyptian walking onions of insouciance, demonstrating their capacity to chillax in the presence of Esme, if not to produce appreciable bulbs.

Happily, it just so happens to be the Season of Ubiquitous edible Onion Weed. By onion weed I don;t mean the pretty but otherwise pointless so-called onion weed with which I grew up in the wilde of NSW (Nothoscordum inodorum or Allium neapolitanum, nothing to write home about on the gastronomy front), but, rather, the delicious, faintly garlicky, and plentiful Allium triquetrum, or three-cornered leek, growing rampantly along the banks of a Merri Creek tributary near you (or me, more to the point).

Free-range onion weed.

While they don't have the world's enormousest oniony bit, the greens are like a particularly lovely mild shallot. I pulled up a clump from a nearby weedarium yesterday, and whizzed them, leaves, roots, flowers and all, with chickpeas, cumin, chilli, coriander and salt to make falafels. They've made their way into kale & tempeh cook-ups (oh yeah, I sure know how to party), lentil surprises (ditto), and been chopped into potato mash. There's a recipe floating around somewhere for tempura-battered onion weed flowers, which sounds like a dangerous dish to get fond of, but - on the other hand - the onion weed season is brief and the fried stuff is delicious.

In other matters alliumnal, I've got a wicking box full of King Richard leeks on the go. I've been so proud of the way they were growing, my plucky leeks, and then this morning, as we were nearing the end of our 15km creek-side walk from home to CERES (just thought I'd mention that in passing, our 15km walk to breakfast at CERES ... did I say it was 15 kilometres? before breakfast?), we stumbled across the Merri Creek market garden, and spied these beauties that make my leeks look like puny blades of grass.

 Intimidatingly good-looking leeks, buried up to their shoulders and everything.

So that put me in my place. Some kind of leek farmer I am. On the other hand, we came home with half a bagful of free onion weed, so spem in allium.*

* an incredibly sophisticated pun (punion!) on "spem in alium". Vastly improved by this footnote. Or, you know, not.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Special favas' day post: disorganised experiments with the sexual careers of broadbeans

For four years now, I've been growing two varieties of fava beans. The first variety, Aquadulce, white flowers spotted with black, has been my backyard utility broadbean. It produces loads of pods and each pod has loads of seeds, and I like to eat them very much. If I eat almost all, but save ten beans, I'll have bazillions of seeds to sow the following year.

Aquadulce, in flower.

The second variety is the Crimson flowered. It's the broadbean the pope would grow, in my expert episcopal opinion, and by jingo I hope he does, in his abundant spare time, in a raised wicking bed on the Vatican forecourt, using his mitre as an A-grade dibber. It's a gorgeous deep red, but it produces not so many pods with not so many seeds in each pod, and so it's been my front-garden show variety. Because the 12 seeds I bought in 2011 cost $3.95 – over thirty cents per bean – and they're usually easy to save, I keep at least half of these beans for growing the following year, rather than despatching them into the Lalorian belly with gnocci and garlic.

One of the reasons I've been so conscientious about keeping the white-flowering Aquadulces behind the house and the crimson-flowering broadies out front has been to prevent cross-pollination, to keep my crimsons crimson and my Aquadulces prolific. Last year, though, our otherwise blameless neighbour across the street grew a row of broadbeans along her low brick fence, and it would appear that there have been trans-streetway shenanigans.

The evidence is in this year's patch of frontyard crimson broadbeans. Besides a goodly portion - perhaps 90% - which remain the colour of the crimsons above, there is a smattering of deviant hybrids:

 a purple-graduating-to-black ombre broad bean flower.

 a veined violet flower with a black spot,

a richly pink flower, 

 and a slightly less richly pink flower.

Here's where I fail as a eugenicist. Rather than yanking these out to try to retrieve the purity of my crimson stock, or slipping botanical condoms over their stamens, I'm kind of curious to see what these hybrids do (they may have inherited not just the non-crimsonness of her-across-the-road's beans, but - if I'm lucky - some of the prolificness). And I'm still more curious to see what happens to next year's broadbean babies. So I'll be tying bits of wool around the not-quite-crimson-flowering plants to remind me to pay attention, save their seed, and plant them in an experimental bed come May, and in the meantime, I'm enjoying their rare colours.