Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Wild, Natural foods
I was really inspired for a moment yesterday when on my way to the beach, when i saw just how much wild fennel is growing.
I'm planning to head off into the Maltese countryside and collect some edible goodies. There isn't much countryside left, but there is plenty of edible herbs to collect, seeds, leaves etc.
I have been told that collecting wild thyme is illegal, as it's the National plant of Malta. Can anyone confirm this cos you find this stuff all over the place!
Rosemary is also found in abundance, and of course the fennel, it's simply everywhere and is going to seed at the moment.
Picking fennel seeds and smelling them instantly transports me to visions of warm kitchens with Maltese "Patata'l-forn" i.e. Maltese baked potatoes, which is traditionally seasoned with seasalt, black pepper and fennel seeds.
I wonder what else I can gather from the hills at the north of the island?
I'm aware that wild asparagus grows in spring, although i've never collected it.
Prickly pears (or "tuna" as they are known in south America) - well I would, but I like my fingers prickle-less, and my cactus fruits peeled by someone who's an expert at doing it. Anyway they are in season now and are sold by the bucket load in the market. These are picked from the cactuses bordering farms, and the ones that grow in untended fields and on the side of the road. They are called "Indian figs" in Italy but in fact they are native to the Americas. Many people don't really like the amount of seeds in this deliciously refreshing fruit, however I find that simply swallowing them like I do grape seeds works a treat. In malta, they are called "Bajtar Tax-Xewk", which means "figs with prickles". I love it :)
Figs and prickly pears would probably be my favourite fruit of the Mediterranean.
Figs - The arrival of August signals the 2nd fig season of summer - the season for "Farkizan" figs, the small purple ones. Again, these are picked from random fields, and trees that grow all over the place on and off farms. In Malta, they like them pretty ripe, so it's not surprising when you find squished ones in the selection you buy. But they are very tasty! :D I'm looking foward to this and the next season (the one in late august with the figs called "tin", the little green ones). I love the giant green ones you find in june, but my favourite are the little green ones methinks. They come from the same tree as the larger ones (Bajtar ta San Gwann). Apparently the Farkizan come from another type of fig tree. All these figs are most definitely native to the Mediterranean, and have been cultivated and eaten here for millenia. They are wonderful plants, flowering (with their magical inside out flower fruiit combination thing - the fig!) at different times of the year, providing food for humans and animals alike. Each type of fig has one specific wasp that pollinates it. Evolutionary specialisation is a winner in this case :)
At the market we go to, we have a lady called "Lippa" (Philippa) who sells random things she finds in the fields - sometimes it's figs, sometimes prickly pears, sometimes bay-leaves.. depends on what time of year it is. I love it! She looks as old as the village itself, and carries things around in a pram :) These are just one of the things I love about Zebbug and its thriving and oh so fresh market :D
If anyone knows of any other edible goodies I can collect from the fields, please let me know. And no, I will not collect and prepare my own snails, no matter how delicious they are and how many 10's of them I will consume if they are prepared n garlic butter.