4 ways to eat onion weed flowers
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.”