Saffron Harvest

close-up of saffron blossom

close-up of saffron blossom

Some blessed and enlightened gardener(s) planted up patches of one of my local parks with saffron crocus – Crocus Sativus and they flower for a period of two precious weeks at the end of October, each flower lasting just a day.

There are other autumn crocuses, from the colchicum family that flower earlier in September through to December, but they aren’t edible, (in fact some, such as naked ladies, are highly toxic – so be warned)…..the stamens are usually quite obviously different. True saffron crocuses have 3 stamens, whereas the colchicum family (as they’re really from the lily family) have 6, and the stigmas and stamens often (but not always) look very different. You want to collect stigmas.There is some difference in colour, from strong orange to deep crimson in true saffron – if you’re not sure, read a few reliable guides, but when stigmas are dry, the smell of saffron is unmistakable.
UPDATE – spent some time chatting to a gardener who specialises in native British planting the other day, and he told me the stigmas from colchicum family can also smell of saffron when dried, as they also contain safranal – the best way to exclude a poisonous naked lady is to check for leaves – naked ladies don’t have any when they flower (they produce leaves in the spring, when they sometimes get mistaken for wild garlic – which is when most cases of poisoning occur – sometimes fatal). Crocus leaves are long thin spikes, darker than a blade of grass and slightly glossy. I went to back to the park to take a better picture, but the municipal gardeners have mowed 😦 however, found some naked ladies planted in the local ecology park so have posted a picture at the end of this post. Saffron is always planted by humans, whereas naked ladies also appear in the wild, especially in the southwest of England.

Now, if you were a saffron farmer, or growing some in your garden, you would be up at the crack of dawn to harvest your gold (it is the most expensive spice on earth), but I tend to go later in the day – it gives other creatures a chance to share the bounty and it doesn’t effect the quality dramatically and as the flowers are delicate, you don’t need to panic so much about ruining them. I tend to use a pair of tweezers if I remember them, but fingers can be used with care;-)
As with some wild mushrooms, the flavour gets stronger as the stigma dry – I place mine in cigarette rolling papers as I pick – use a similar sort of paper as tissues would absorb too much of the precious flavour.
One of the golden rules of foraging is never to take more than 1/10th of what you find, and while saffron doesn’t depend on pollination as it doesn’t produce seeds, please don’t be greedy if you find some – the earth is a common treasury for all;-)
Personally, I love love love saffron, but I usually collect about 30 stigmas – enough for 4 or 5 dishes a year – it’s a luxury and it would somehow feel sacrilegious to treat it with less than reverence. If I need more, I buy it.
Bulbs are available for sale (and get planted) from June – you can earn serious brownie points with your favourite gardener for the price of a few bulbs. I’m not sure how far north they flourish in the UK – see the wikipage for growing conditions .
If you have to eek out small amounts of saffron in a recipe, I recommend you augment it with anatto seeds (from the lipstick plant) soaked in hot water or brown onion skins boiled in water, as they both give a lovely colour and no discernible flavour. Turmeric, while a lovely shade of yellow and a brilliant spice in its own right, has a very strong flavour which will annihilate your saffron.

this is a naked lady, colchicum - and IS NOT saffron - if it has no leaves, leave it well alone

this is a naked lady, colchicum – and IS NOT saffron – if it has no leaves, leave it well alone

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things to harvest, things to sow

It feels like I’ve had so much to do, and so much to pick and make, there never seems to be a good time to sit and write – the cocktail of my life is definitely being served with a twist of ‘scared rabbit caught in the headlights’ at the mo, leading to a touch of scribbler’s stoppage…….which, dear reader, while inconvenient, is not as painful or as socially embarrassing as it sounds 😉

I’m not apologising for my silence – I’m sure you’ve been too busy to notice, but more that I might post in splurges while I catch up…so, the list below will grow links as the evening progresses….
Mother Nature seems to being having splurges too (maybe it’s our age) 😉 – so some things are early (mulberries and blackberries), some things are going at normal speed (fennel seeds and mushrooms), some things have done really badly because they flowered before the cold snap (plums, peaches, almonds and I fear, sloes) and some things have gone overboard with their bounty (cherries, nasturtiums, grapes and cobnuts)…and I found 2 sprigs of blossom on my next door neighbour’s pear tree this week….which is just plain abnormal.

nape cherries in the sunlight

nape cherries in the sunlight


Things to pick and harvest now
Poppy seeds – for baking
Angelica seeds – (but make sure it’s angelica not giant hog’s weed) for baking and flavouring
Cherries – for liqueurs, cordial and glacé
Vine leaves – preserved leaves for dolmades
Nasturtium seeds and leaves – for poor folk capers and lily pad crisps
Green walnuts – for nocino
Mulberries – for liqueur and cordial
Blackberries – ditto and B’s lovely chilli blackberry jelly

Things to sow now
There’s loads of flowers you’re meant to start in late summer for next year, and I usually forget, but Sweet Cecily is useful, ditto angelica, although you need to pop the seeds in the freezer for a couple of weeks to break dormancy…
….and lots and lots of coriander – (this may seem silly as it’s going to bolt and flower really quickly if it’s hot and dry and anyway there’s 4 huge bunches for £1 on the market but…) – in a couple of months the bees will LOVE you for this favourite pollen source, and you’ll be able to harvest both green and dried seed….don’t bother to use seeds from a garden centre – miles too costly – straight out of your kitchen cupboard will do fine…

(….other things to sew, sadly, are the holes in the arses of 3 of my favourite skirts, but that’s because I never change into ‘my gardening clothes’ – I’m a clutz….)

things to upcycle
BBQ
Kitchen spritzer

link to lovely frivolous pix of sugary talent, creativity and serious dollops of skill!

http://theverybesttop10.com/2013/07/14/amazing-things-people-do-with-sugar/

or how to feast your eyes on lots of sugar without being tempted to take a bite 😉

I did a guest post on the lovely ‘the very best top ten’ site…be warned, as a site, it is a deceptively delightful fritterer of minutes when you have things to do…..;-)

Political Party in Sensible Idea Shocker

‘Labour unveils plan to promote food-growing culture in Britain

Plant fruit trees on housing estates and vegetable patches in schools to address ‘nutrition recession’, party says’

Guardian article here…..while it’s great that they’ve seen the light, do they really think it’s going to change anyone’s voting habits, especially when it’s something people have been thinking and (quietly getting on with) doing for years. I think I’m right in saying local councils have had a legal duty to supply allotments since 1909. Fair enough, some official ‘approval’ is always useful….but, still, talk about stating the bleeding obvious.

#everycanhelps 5th-6th July

I guess you know by now that while I sometimes shop at supermarkets, I don’t necessarily love them – however, Tesco’s and the Trussell Trust (who run food banks in the UK) are partnering this coming w/e to collect donations for food banks, and Tesco’s will contribute a further 30% – so drop off a can or two, eh? Nothing says you have to buy the stuff from Tesco’s, if you don’t want to! 😉

More details and suggested items can be found here

http://www.trusselltrust.org/tesco-collection

£1.60 for a 10 kilo bag of chapati flour – amazing!

What a bargain!….that will make about 200+ chapatis. It was a slightly torn bag, reduced from £4, which is already a discounted price. Yes, folks, Ramadan starts in a couple of weeks, so all the shops and supermarkets in my area will be falling over themselves to offer us special bargains. It is a great time to stock up on rice, pulses, pickles and other store cupboard goodies to last you through the year.

Last year I was a bit of doledrumdiva’doh’nut and I bought 4 kilos of red split lentils, ‘cos they were the cheapest – forgetting that I don’t love them that much, and I still have 2 kilos left 😦 – still, they will keep for ages.

This year I’m going to buy urid dahl and moong dahl, both of which I love and both of which I’ve got lots of recipes for 🙂