Nature is not mean with her gifts to us. This is a pear tree which grows in a community centre where I volunteer at the reception every five weeks. Yesterday, I not only had four pears for lunch but also brought back a bagful to give away. Having been grown organically and being in season, they were deliciously sweet. I don’t normally like pears but these were out of the world. Eating with the seasons mean that Nature is more than ready to shower us with its abundance.
Recently I was reading about plants that grow in water. You can put literally anything like carrot tops, onion tops, celery etc in water and they grow again. Amazing, so I have been doing some experiments to see how little plants need to grow again.
But there are plants that grow in air too. You will have seen root plants such as potatoes, ginger etc as well as bulbs such as garlic and onions also grow from nothing. Here are my experiments with turmeric which needed nothing but darkness and air to start growing green shoots.
Here are the planted shoots, growing beautifully-
Which brings me to the point of this post- how amazing plants are and how little they really need. A bit of water, a bit of soil, bit of sunlight, some pruning from time to time and perhaps a change of soil and addition of compost. Yet they provide an eco system that supports our very life. They attract bees that pollinate other plants, they give us food, medicine and clean and purify the air we breathe. We’d all die if plants died. They are beautiful and keep us healthy. They give us so much for so little. Yet, how many times have I expressed gratitude for plants? Not many times, perhaps because I take them for granted. From now on, I shall express gratitude for plants every day!
I used to wrap sweetcorn in aluminium foil and bake it- along with countless other times of using the aluminium foil for other things. I learnt a more eco-friendly way to bake sweet corn from my vegetable delivery company last week. And it is very simple too. Just soak the sweet corn in water for 30 minutes without taking off the outer husk- it also keeps in fresher and sweeter for longer.
Then without taking off the husks, bake it for about 25-30 minutes in oven 180 degrees. Take it out but do not remove the husks until the last minute- they will keep warm. Then serve with lashings of butter and a little salt if you like, delicious! You can also barbecue the sweetcorn in this way, instead of using the oven.
I can reuse the husks to cover other stuff instead of using foil and they cover tricky shapes like ovals and circles as they stretch. Foil is of course, recyclable infinitely but the raw production of it is very energy intensive. Foil can be reused but most people throw it away after one use. Used husks below are very easy to use- and after the second use, I have now put them for composting- Nature does not make waste!
I found the following information about aluminium foil. http://www.green24.com/lifestyle/foil.php
Up to six tonnes of bauxite ore (the raw material for aluminium) is needed to produce one tonne of aluminium metal. Lot of of fossil fuels are used to mine, transport, and refine the ore (embodied energy). Foil in a landfill is said to last at least 400 years before breaking down. Burning aluminium foil with the waste from landfill sites (as many people don’t bother to re-use or recycle it) releases toxic metals and gases. Health concerns have been raised about using aluminium cooking vessels so using foil should have similar concerns. So why not use a totally biodegradable and natural material to bake or barbecue your sweetcorn?
These days when anything can be bought from royal titles to a bit of the Moon, making something to give to someone appears very unique. When I was young, my Uncle used to give us the best presents- they were always the same and they brought me and my sisters so much delight. They were shoes boxes filled with the things we liked- crepe paper, scissors, glue, tape, tinsel, string and paint. From those things we created a lot more things- I remember those shoe boxes with such pleasure. A box that made me do something creative! Times have changed now- shoe boxes filled with such things won’t be accepted with such joyous innocence!
This year, I made something for my son alongside a ‘bought present’. Plants are very easy to propagate and make great presents. So here is my homemade Bonsai starter pot for my son.
I grew that little tree out of another bonsai tree that I was pruning, the moss was found growing on another pot that needing cleaning out and I had the sedum plants. I had found that little pot as well. There are many Youtube videos on soil composition needed for Bonsai, so I won’t be going into that. That said, the main things I learnt from the videos were that the soil needs to drain easily and that composition of the loose soil to that of the compost or hot soil is 75% to 25%. Some of the sandy soil I found in an old pot and mixed it with some fresh sand that I found when a local basement was been built (talk about sourcing locally!) I mixed everything by hand and instead of sieving as shown in the videos, I took out bigger bits of rocks and gravel by feeling with my hands. The rocks and shells have been collected during our holidays, so they will have memories and familiarity. It will take a few years for that tree to look like a bonsai tree (it is only 6 months old). Until then, he is going to have learn to take care of it as Bonsai needs a lot of looking after. So this is my version of our childhood shoe box presents- something creative that will encourage my son do something creative.
I didn’t know what prickly pears were- I thought they could refer to pears that were a bit irritating (only joking!). No, I really didn’t until I went to the local Lebanese shop and bought these-
As an artistic person I was attracted to the colours, texture and shape of the fruit and thought they were beautiful! I cut open the fruit and the fragrance was amazing- it had a ‘sweet’ perfume and tasted like cross between a melon and an apple.
So I did some research on the fruit. Apparently it grows on a cactus in semi-arid regions and is better known as Opuntia ficus-indica. It is a common drought-resistant fodder plant.
The fruit can be chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours and then cut into slices- the outer hard skin and seeds are not eaten. They can be boiled and made into jams and juices. Mexicans eat the young cactus pads sliced into strips, skinned or unskinned, and fried with eggs and jalapeños, served as a breakfast treat. In the early 1900s the USA imported these from Mexico and the Mediterranean countries but they gradually fell from f(l)avour during the mid-1950s. Since the late 1990s, they have become popular again. Below is my version of the Mexican breakfast made with fried green prickly pears, Romero peppers, green chilli, fried egg with cumin, garlic, coriander and red pepper seasoning.
I was also amazed to find out that they serve as not only fodder and drink for the cattle in the Southwest United States but also may be used for a boundary fence. Cattle can be made to stay in one area enclosed by a prickly pear fence. The spines can be burned off to reduce mouth injury to the cattle when feeding them with the plant. The cactus pads, on which the cattle feed, are low in dry matter and crude protein, but are useful as a supplement in drought conditions. In addition to the food value, the moisture within provides the cattle with hydration. All from a lowly cactus! I will try to grow one from the seed.
So next time you see an fruit or a vegetable that you’ve never eaten before- do try it! You may learn something about our wonderful world as I did.