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Lyra Jean
03-01-2012, 05:41 AM
In my novel two of my characters run an organic cafe. One of the things they do to help them stick out from the crowd is have a signature dish that features a rare edible plant or it can also be extremely difficult to grow. So I need some ideas on what kind of plants, veggies, or fruits I can feature.

Their restaurants are located in a zone 9 growing area if that helps.

Vin
03-01-2012, 06:16 AM
A chef in my last novel prepared a special dish with Golden Chanterelle mushrooms. I've never tasted one, but my understanding is that the flavor is like apricots (which I happen to like). Reportedly, they cannot be cultivated, but are only found wild in wooded areas. Their season is late summer so they might not work for a year-round menu.

Siri Kirpal
03-01-2012, 06:49 AM
Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Fresh water chestnuts (not canned)
Jicama
Buddha's hand
Lychees
Fennel used as a vegetable, not a seasoning (but it's easy to grow)

Durian fruit you probably wouldn't want as it stinks.

That's what I can think of off hand.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

sunandshadow
03-01-2012, 07:10 AM
Edible flowers such as nasturtiums aren't really hard to grow but can make an arty touch. Cardamom is a rare and expensive spice which grows somewhere around that zone. It is used in sweet spice breads and Thai curries and Indian korma and that sort of fruity spicy stew.

Alessandra Kelley
03-01-2012, 07:20 AM
Saffron crocuses.

Hip-Hop-a-potamus
03-01-2012, 07:31 AM
Watercress has to be grown in some sort of running water, I believe. Like a stream or the waterfall of a pond feature.

Canotila
03-01-2012, 08:25 AM
If they're going for a healthful angle, maybe moringa leaves? They're a small, shrubby, tropical/subtropical tree. The leaves are incredibly nutritious. Here's a link that describes them in better detail.

http://www.treesforlife.org/our-work/our-initiatives/moringa

blacbird
03-01-2012, 09:39 AM
What you can grow well depends not only on your climatic zone, but also soil conditions and some other factors. If you're going to be detailed about this, you should research some good veggie gardening books/sites.

Watercress, water chestnuts, wasabi are all a bitch to grow, as far as I've read. And many prime mushrooms (chanterelles, morels, the best boletes) cannot be cultivated and have to be found in the wild environment.

Nasturtium flowers, as mentioned, are easy to grow, and go fabulously in salads, but are weirdly under-appreciated. I grow them every year, both for decoration and eating. The flowers have this wonderful honey-mustard tang and look magnificent atop a pile of greens. I think that might work very well in a specialty restaurant.

caw

Marya
03-01-2012, 10:24 AM
Your characters might want to pick up on the Nomu Scandinavian foraging trends and think about edible mosses used like seaweeds or kelp), unusual berries, tubers. They would want to use local rather than imported exotic so I would think about location and whether you have forests, riverbanks (some kind of wild garlic?), wild meadows, some wild or domesticated plant or fruit that can be preserved and used in the same dish year-round -- unless it is a seasonal speciality.

You might think about them reviving a dish popular a century ago, some kind of wild maize or wild potato that can be grown and made into a lighter dish. I would also think about nuts, some kind of autumn nut similar to pecan or almond, gone out of fashion but used in a vegan special.

Or something like a wild pea shoot where in spring the new shoots are used, later the peas themselves and in winter the dried peas. So you would have a signature taste used across seasons as a salad ingredient, then a risotto ingredient and then a soup.

Herbs? Dill or a wild medicinal herb, slightly bitter or astringent, that spikes a peach coulis or red onion risotto --

Seasonality would be the challenge here since most restaurants or cafes would change menus according to availability. Though you might want that signature dish to be something like a green pistachio nut ice cream or ice cream flavoured with blackberry or cardamom or rosewater or something a little unusual but delicious enough to become famous and sought-after. Organic roses, petals and distilled rosewater, are lovely in North African-style dishes and your characters could grow old French roses, fragrant and deeply scented.

Then there are heirloom vegetables, a rare delicata squash or apples or tomatoes, a fruit discovered in an old orchard that dates back to Tudor times and brought to America centuries ago, used in the most delectable Tarte tatin ever or as an apple foam syllabub.

Time for a little snackum.

blacbird
03-01-2012, 11:04 AM
I garden, and one of the main reasons I do is to grow vegetables and herbs that can't be got at the store, except maybe on rare occasions and even then they are usually crap.

But many are quite easy to grow, and for a restaurant specializing in unusual stuff grown locally, would be worth working with:

kohlrabi - fabulous raw or cooked
mustard greens, varying from mild to spicy
mizuna
sorrel
leafy red lettuces (my favorite variety is something called merlot lettuce)
red romaine lettuce
arugula
golden beets
multi-colored swiss chard
chervil (a wonderful sweet herb that doesn't keep, and so will never be found in decent condition in a grocery store)
cilantro, oregano, greek oregano, dill, varieties of basil (you can find them at the grocery, but the fresh stuff is vastly superior).
chives and garlic chives, which are perennial and come back every year. The fresh stuff, again, is far superior to what you can buy.

These can all be grown in a relatively small garden, with ease. I once ate at a Bay area restaurant south of Hayward, CA, which had its own garden for such stuff, and it was fabulous. It's a great idea if you want to play around with a foodie-style fiction plot. Remember, Rex Stout made great mileage out of Nero Wolfe and his obsession with gourmet food and orchid-growing.

caw

catian
03-01-2012, 11:48 AM
Hi Lyra Jean
Can I ask what zone 9 growing area?

Alessandra Kelley
03-01-2012, 03:58 PM
Zone 9 is a designation of gardening climate. It's way south of Chicago (zone 5), so probably pretty hot summers and winters that rarely get much below freezing.

http://www.garden.org/zipzone/

Lyra Jean
03-01-2012, 05:22 PM
If it helps the setting is Florida. A little more specific than Zone 9.

backslashbaby
03-02-2012, 01:50 AM
Ooh. Floridians would have a hard time growing roses that produce those huge hips that are so yummy. They need winter chill and dislike the soil in Florida, as well as the nematodes in that soil.

That climate makes a lot of things harder to grow, but your readers might not know that, because they may grow them just fine.

Maybe cacti for the edible fruit. That would be a specialty.

And truffles would be darned near impossible to grow in Florida, but the right idealist might try :D Those are notoriously rare, so readers will get it easily.

Siri Kirpal
03-02-2012, 04:46 AM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I based my list on San Diego's climate (also zone 9, I think), so it would probably work in Florida.

Another item to add:

Kumquats

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

blacbird
03-02-2012, 05:48 AM
And truffles would be darned near impossible to grow in Florida.

Nobody can "grow" truffles. They've never been successfully cultivated.

caw

backslashbaby
03-03-2012, 03:46 AM
Nobody can "grow" truffles. They've never been successfully cultivated.

caw

Google is your friend, sir ;)

Fins Left
03-03-2012, 07:14 AM
I'm in Ohio and envy zone 9! You could actually grow tomatos continuously like a perenial. Look at vining tomatos and heritage varieties.

For me, Paw Paw trees are the ultimate challenge. You need two to pollenate, the flowers smell like rotting flesh (they're pollenated by flies) and the fruit is only available for about 2-3 weeks.

Flavor-wise, Spirulina (an algea) is hard to make taste good, yet it has a lot of health benifits.

blacbird
03-03-2012, 07:20 AM
Google is your friend, sir ;)


I have groogled, and humbly stand corrected. I admit my shortcoming.

Well, this particular one.

caw

backslashbaby
03-03-2012, 08:13 AM
:ROFL:

Lyra Jean
03-04-2012, 07:30 AM
So many interesting plants. Thanks guys and keep them coming.

I'm going to start looking them all up on my next day off when I have some real time to work on my novel.

Smiling Ted
03-04-2012, 07:51 AM
Kiwicha Amaranth - a pseudo grain grown by the Incas and Aztecs. It's an "amino acid complement" to cereals like wheat.

BunnyMaz
03-04-2012, 08:38 AM
I wish I could remember the name of it, but I do recall seeing a TV show with Heston Blumenthal in, where he travelled to some little Italian village to bid on some caesar mushrooms.

In fact, fungi in general might be a good way to go. There are a few rare, highly prized varieties that can only be foraged for, and I know when I went on a foraging day course last year, the guy who took us was talking a lot about how exciting it is to come across things like a king bolete.

He also mentioned that he has successfully cooked and eaten fly agaric mushrooms himself - apparently several days of soaking in water followed by sufficient boiling removes the toxins.

blacbird
03-04-2012, 10:34 AM
the guy who took us was talking a lot about how exciting it is to come across things like a king bolete.

One of the neat parts about living where I do in southern Alaska is that king boletes (Boletus edulis) tend to be abundant here in late summer. Along with a similar and equally tasty bolete named Boletus mirabilis, which has a delightful lemon-yellow underside. Sliced thin, these dry very well and reconstitute in water easily, can be kept all winter dried in sandwich bags in the freezer.


He also mentioned that he has successfully cooked and eaten fly agaric mushrooms himself - apparently several days of soaking in water followed by sufficient boiling removes the toxins.

Yeah, maybe, but David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified, the irreverent bible of mushrooming, would say something like: "Yeah, maybe, but why, considering there are so many other better edibles out there which don't require such torment to be eaten."

caw

dirtsider
03-04-2012, 06:17 PM
I was going to suggest rose tea or rose jam but someone mentioned roses don't really grow well in Florida. Still, these things can be bought, as well as rosewater. Trust me, I'm always on the look out for tea rose petal jam. lol

(FYI - yes, I know I can get it on the internet but not all jams are the same. lol)

BunnyMaz
03-04-2012, 06:48 PM
Yeah, maybe, but David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified, the irreverent bible of mushrooming, would say something like: "Yeah, maybe, but why, considering there are so many other better edibles out there which don't require such torment to be eaten."

caw

Absolutely, but I think there's a certain appeal there for the sort of tourists who order fugu on holiday. For the guy taking us on the course, I think it was just part of his obsession with eating as much foraged food as possible. This is also the guy who gave the Guardian what might well be the best quote on "what hedgehog tastes like" ever. (He pretty much only eats roadkill for meat).

bellabar
03-06-2012, 02:05 PM
Have you ever heard of finger limes? Think of pop rocks but citrus. When you open the finger sized pods, they are filled with yellow, pink or green spheres. Put these in your mouth and they explode with a lime like flavour. So as well as the flavour there's also a "fun" component to them.
Finger limes are Australian natives, but are now being grown in California and, I think, in Florida. But they're not common yet so would be kind of a fun thing to have on a menu.

Lyra Jean
04-08-2012, 08:13 AM
I've decided on finger limes and nasturtium flowers. Thanks a lot everyone for the suggestions.

StephanieFox
05-07-2012, 01:51 AM
Morel mushrooms! These grow only near dead oak trees and are wonderful. You slice them lengthwise, dredge them in flour and fry them in butter or olive oil. They aren't cultivated and so are very rare. I don't think these would grow in Florida, but up here in Zones 3 to 5, they grow well, if you can find them. (They are very hard to find and those that do find them, keep the location a secret.) I have seen them only rarely for sale in a super or farmer's market.

ArtsyAmy
05-08-2012, 01:19 AM
I garden in Zone 7, but I suppose what I'll suggest could be grown in Zone 9. A couple of people already mentioned heirloom tomatoes. Those can be tricky to grow, but the variety and taste can be worth the trouble--might be something customers at your cafe would keep coming back for. You might also want to consider fruits and vegetables in colors that are different from what we typically think of--black peppers, tomatoes that are orange on the bottom/purple on top, purple carrots. I'm not making these things up! In fact, the seed catalog I order from has all these, and they're all organic and non-genetically modified. Maybe you'd want to have heirloom tomatoes that are an unusual color. You might also want to consider melons--huge variety there (orange-fleshed watermelon, maybe). I'm picturing a cafe that has it's own garden, so the owners/employees can grow their unusual item from seed/don't have to depend one someone else for it.

Lyra Jean
05-08-2012, 04:50 PM
I garden in Zone 7, but I suppose what I'll suggest could be grown in Zone 9. A couple of people already mentioned heirloom tomatoes. Those can be tricky to grow, but the variety and taste can be worth the trouble--might be something customers at your cafe would keep coming back for. You might also want to consider fruits and vegetables in colors that are different from what we typically think of--black peppers, tomatoes that are orange on the bottom/purple on top, purple carrots. I'm not making these things up! In fact, the seed catalog I order from has all these, and they're all organic and non-genetically modified. Maybe you'd want to have heirloom tomatoes that are an unusual color. You might also want to consider melons--huge variety there (orange-fleshed watermelon, maybe). I'm picturing a cafe that has it's own garden, so the owners/employees can grow their unusual item from seed/don't have to depend one someone else for it.

I bought purple carrot seeds. I failed to grow them. I think the dirt was too sandy. They are going to grow tomatoes and carrots when they reach Mars. They will only be on Earth for a chapter or two and I wanted something exotic for them to offer to contrast with the mundane foods they will grow on Mars. Now, the mundane foods will be considered exotic.

aikigypsy
05-08-2012, 08:09 PM
In Zone 9 you should be able to grow loquats, a kind of fruit with orange flesh and large seed/pits which is common in parts of China.

Celery is hard to grow but easy to buy, so probably doesn't fit the bill.

Artichokes would be a good choice because there are some interesting varieties and they're very attractive plants (I think). In Zone 9 they would be perennial and could maybe even stand in for ornamental bushes.