4 ways to eat onion weed flow­ers

NZ Lifestyle Block - - DIY FOOD -

In spite of its lovely po­etic name, Al­lium tri­quetrum, New Zealan­ders have been bat­tling with onion weed for what feels like for­ever. But peo­ple in Europe have been eat­ing some­thing very sim­i­lar from the same botan­i­cal fam­ily for cen­turies. In Ger­many, bär­lauch is a close rel­a­tive of our onion weed and is sought-af­ter in mar­kets.

While I cer­tainly don't want to ad­vo­cate ‘spread­ing it around' (it does that quite well by it­self ), you can def­i­nitely utilise this plant and even learn to love it.

I was in­tro­duced to this ed­i­ble wild green some years ago at a com­mu­nity where I came across a lit­tle gang of kids who were eat­ing the stalks and flow­ers with great gusto. Imag­ine my de­light when I dis­cov­ered that this was an onion­flavoured plant that I could eat raw. Usu­ally raw gar­lic and onion make me feel rather ill but this so called ‘weed', with its three-cor­nered stalks and droopy white flow­ers, had me in­stantly hooked.

This dip has a unique spicy tang to it and is a per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ment with onion weed-bat­tered flow­ers or flower pikelets, or serve with wedges, car­rot sticks or crack­ers. It goes down a treat on any nib­bles plat­ter. These de­light­ful lit­tle pikelets are great to make with kids. First, you go out and pick flow­ers to­gether, and then you eat them! It's the best way to in­tro­duce young­sters to the joys of for­ag­ing. If you don't have oat­meal, you can make your own by puls­ing rolled oats in a food pro­ces­sor un­til they re­sem­ble coarse flour.

River­stone is in a pretty quiet part of the world. You’d think it might at­tract a cou­ple of dozen cars a day, but it’s mid­week and the large car park is buzzing. We de­cide we’ll spend an hour here. Two hours later and we’ve hardly started.

The prop­erty is a pal­ette of artis­tic vis­tas. Every­where you look, there are gardens, fruit trees and peren­nial beds, all lib­er­ally fer­tilised with cow ma­nure and over­flow­ing with pro­duce and flow­ers in imag­i­na­tive com­bi­na­tions.

The scale is im­pres­sive. The gar­dener here doesn’t be­lieve in tid­dly lit­tle plots. There are large, raised beds and se­ri­ous veg­etable pro­duc­tion on a grand scale. When a chef in starched white apron runs out, he’s cut­ting enough fen­nel to last our house­hold for a month.

The ev­i­dence of an artist’s hand goes be­yond the gardens. Be­side the or­chard, what was a huge farm shed is now a huge gift shop, colour-themed to show ex­hibit qual­ity.

Smack in the mid­dle, and al­most at odds with the coun­try, cot­tagey-style gar­den, is a large, min­i­mal­ist-style, modern res­tau­rant with floor to ceil­ing win­dows. It’s hum­ming. The view out

Dot’s words, “blew them off the planet.’ It was a far from ideal place for a gar­den.

Dot planted pines and grad­u­ally built gardens around the orig­i­nal house, in­clud­ing beds of dried flow­ers which paved the way for the gift­ware busi­ness.

“Most peo­ple would choose a site with beau­ti­ful soil and put a gar­den in it. We had a pad­dock and we stuck a res­tau­rant on it!”

This means Dot gardens in a very dif­fer­ent form to most peo­ple. It re­quires con­stant re­newal of the soil so all the plots need ve­hi­cle ac­cess to take away waste and re­store soil. Cow ma­nure is sup­plied from the ef­flu­ent ponds of the six dairy farms that Neil and Dot now have around them.

“All of it is used – there is never any spare.”

“(Usu­ally), there is no con­nec­tion to the grower other than the tele­phone and you can be quite dra­co­nian, just chop­ping and chang­ing.

“We had a wish list that we wanted but we’ve learnt that if some­thing in the gar­den is ready, you have to use it. It won’t wait for you. When you scream for co­rian­der, and it comes on, if you don’t use it you can look a bit of a goose.”

Be­van and the boys in the kitchen do most of the har­vest­ing at River­stone. Some­times, they don’t get it right and get into trou­ble for their poor work.

“Peo­ple used to tak­ing stuff out of a box, com­ing into this en­vi­ron­ment, will mow the whole lot down. If some­one is not used to pick­ing cav­alo nero, they will take the top out of it and it re­ally holds plants back.”

The kitchen has had to come to an un­der­stand­ing of how plants grow.

“Once you un­der­stand that, you can max­imise what you get back from it, look­ing af­ter the kitchen and the gar­den as well.”

Be­van can – and does – change the menu overnight to use what is avail­able. Over sum­mer they will change ev­ery three weeks as stone fruit shifts in avail­abil­ity. The lean­est time of year is spring but the rest of the year is jam-packed with dif­fer­ent things com­ing on at dif­fer­ent times: straw­ber­ries, cher­ries, stone fruit, pears, ap­ples, leeks, kale, rain­bow chard, rhubarb, and the list goes on. Fully util­is­ing the gar­den means push­ing the bound­aries of what peo­ple will eat. Ev­ery­thing has its sea­son on the menu, ei­ther as a star piece, or some­times snuck in un­der­cover. Be­van will serve cae­sar salad with cav­alo nero, beet­root with bits of curly kale, pureed and roasted cauliflower, or sautéed Brussels sprouts over duck.

“For some peo­ple it’s the norm, for oth­ers it’s a bit of a shock. They say, ‘What are these strange look­ing things on my plate?’

“With tra­di­tional eaters you can have a bit of fun push­ing bound­aries with­out them re­al­is­ing, like some­thing un­der or on top of a steak. I like to be able to in­flu­ence a gen­er­a­tion of lo­cals. We’re not try­ing to be tricky. Just real peo­ple mak­ing real food, re­ally flash, and above all, tasty.”

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