If you are anything like me, food and home cooking featured strongly in your activities last weekend (it was a holiday weekend after all). Lately, all of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks (Ottolenghi, Plenty, Plenty More, and Jerusalem) are in heavy rotation in my kitchen. Saturday night I made the Lemony Leek Meatballs accompanied by the Latkes (which interestingly and deliciously require parsnips), and on Sunday the Roasted Onion and Arugula Salad with Walnut Salsa was a great accompaniment to our traditional ham and au gratin potatoes. This was the 5th and 6th time in as many days that I used these books; I am, without question, obsessed.
While the recipes focus heavily on vegetables (and I find I am making my annual seed purchases with certain recipes in mind), they do also require a unique set of ingredients that aren’t regularly found in mainstream grocers or the garden. Everything from Sumac to Barberries can of course be found online…but they have me curious to grow my own fresh varieties.
Odd and exotic delicacies are my thing – so I’ve been focussing on barberries. Berberis vulgaris (European Barberry) has been banned in New England and Canada for over a hundred years having been first brought to the country by early American settlers from England who used it for dye and jam. The first laws to outlaw it – due primarily to the fact that it carried Puccinia graminis (a rust that diminishes wheat oat and cereal crops) were written in the 1800’s. Berberis thunbergii was thought to be a great ornamental substitute and was promoted in the early 1900’s until it too ‘escaped the village’ and was found growing wild, outside of cultivated gardens, and it is now also banned. To my mind, this makes any ‘wild’ berberis plants you might find an excellent choice for foraging as the fruit is edible and picking it will reduce the amount available to birds who will continue its unchecked spread.
Berberis koreana does however seem to remain an option for the northern gardeners to cultivate the berries. In my research I’ve found that this has all the attractiveness of other varieties (hardiness, berries, and four season interest specifically) but does not host Puccinia graminis and it has not been listed as invasive with the USDA (with the exception of one note I discovered for a small area of Vermont – which I am having trouble verifying). I’m thinking to give it a try unless one of you raises your hand and tells me that it is in fact a pest whose true evils have yet to be widely documented. Anyone?
Until the harvest is ready, my recipes will continue to substitute dried cranberries or cherries (which I can find locally with great ease) — and if all else fails — I will break down and spend the $20 to get a bag of wild harvested berries from the pacific Northwest – because as good as these recipes are, I feel I’ve not fully ventured into Yotam’s delicious world until I’ve made it as it was mean to be. Am I Right?
images Dutch Growers and 123rf.com