I am an Heirloom Gardener on Foreign Soil

Life  is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let  us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live  better in the future.
William Wordsworth

I am an heirloom gardener on foreign soil. Originally from Texas, I have Hispanic and Jewish Roots on my Mother’s side; European Roots on my Father’s side. My great grandparents were immigrants from Mexico, Lithuania, Ireland, and Germany. My parents and I were born in America; we are American. I now live in Japan.

I began this journey as a gardener in the States where everything was familiar and comfortable. Seed packets at the local stores were almost always Ferry-Morse or Burpee, not that you had to use seeds because the hardware stores had transplants for just as cheap every spring. You never had trouble finding the name of anything unfamiliar to you. You could count on tomatoes to be red, cucumbers to be green, and all other things to be entirely predictable. You also realized that you would have start up costs for your garden and reason that it was an investment.

Then I started doing something a little different. When we bought produce at the store that I particularly liked; I saved the seeds. What did it cost me besides a little bit of time? I began saving seeds in every fruit and vegetable that I liked. Next I found new produce at places like Whole Foods such as “Yellow Pear Tomato” or “Speckled Roman”  or a Mexican variety of a Cherry Tomato. I began recording where I was finding my seeds, when I found them, and if I knew where they were shipped from.

That is when I learned about Heirloom Gardening. Heirloom seed collection is much like passing down family Heirlooms. You attain seeds from a parent plant and replant those seeds in the future then repeat the process with the generation of seeds that follows. Seeds are passed on to family, neighbors, and friends so that future generations can enjoy growing something as  tangibly in the present as a vegetable but at the same time capable of rebirth through its seed. This is how Heirloom Varieties have stayed around without being stocked in grocery stores; old time gardeners are still saving and passing them on for future generations. I now order seeds from a catalogue (the way the old timers used to do) by Baker Creed Seed Company as they specialize in collecting rare varieties of seeds.

Now I too specialize in collecting rare varieties. I am an heirloom gardener on foreign soil. I am presently growing vegetables from seeds that were from Texas, Mexico, Georgia, and Florida. I now collect new varieties from mysterious foods I find here because today is a part of the story my garden will tell. Imagine a garden in the future where I will tell people, “This is a small Shikuwasa tree started from seeds I collected in Okinawa. Over here is a plant some call a Cape Goose Berry, but in Okinawa it’s called a Hozuki and is said to be extremely rare. At my parent’s house is an Avocado tree I actually started in Georgia and then loaded into the car and took with me to Texas. Then over here is a collection of rare purple varieties of veggies like Jalapeños, Tomatillos, and Cayenne Peppers.” Rather than seeing them only as plants, I will recall the history that is theirs and mine alike.

One thing I find amazing is the miracle of how small a seed is and yet the greatness of it’s potential. It reminds me of myself–of all of us really–and how we start out so small but have the potential to grow to endless heights. A single seed appears so insignificant; yet it can become a huge tree or three foot plant that produces hundreds fruit. Plus, each seed carries the DNA of it’s parent plant. It won’t just randomly turn into another plant–it will be like it’s parent. AND, each new generation of seeds carries traits that help it adapt to the environment that it has been introduced to. Also, if you allow it to be in close proximity to a similar plant variety, the cross pollination will cause it to have traces of the other plant’s DNA. The new generation might come out looking a little different but in most ways it will be the same.

Anyway, this is what I’ve been striving to do when I shop at the local markets. I’m searching for the pieces that I will add to my story–the one that my garden tells. Now you’ll know the significance of Market Day Sunday.

DSC03237 DSC03238 DSC03233 DSC03232 DSC03225 DSC03227 DSC03153 DSC02913 DSC0292520130729-140605.jpgDSC03330DSC03342

 

How I Wound up EATING Flowers

YOU DO NOT LIKE THEM. SO YOU SAY.
TRY THEM! TRY THEM! AND YOU MAY.
TRY THEM AND YOU MAY, I SAY.

SAM! IF YOU LET ME BE,
I WILL TRY THEM. YOU WILL SEE.

Dr. Seuss “Green Eggs and Ham”

It has been a busy week to say the least and I’ve been waiting anxiously to tell you about my most recent Farmer’s Market Finds. You know by now that every visit I will find something purple to place in the basket. Here it is:

DSC03234 Some of you know this fruit already but for those of you who don’t–it’s a Dragon Fruit. Dragon Fruit may be this hot pink hue (okay, it’s close to purple), others may be a sunny yellow, and usually the fruit inside is even more vibrant than the outer skin. Some even have greyish fruit. Here’s what mine looked like:

DSC03236 I think it’s purple.

So here is something interesting about the Dragon Fruit; it doesn’t originate in Asia. It is actually a South American Cactus-like plant that was at some point imported to Asia and is now very popular in all the Asian Countries as well as Israel. I first saw this fruit on my friend Jessa’s blog www.shalomsweethome.com .

To eat, cut it in half and scoop out the center with a spoon the way you would a Kiwi. It is delicious. It doesn’t taste exactly like a Kiwi but the fruit flavor and texture is strikingly similar and you get to eat more of it (my favorite part). Another one of my favorite bloggers features a recipe using the Dragon Fruit here: http://naturallydiy.com/2013/07/16/dragon-fruit-salad/

As I was so intrigued by this fruit at the market and eager to give it a taste, I also found this item in the same bin:

20130721-113800.jpg Was it a dragon fruit relative? Was it another fruit entirely? Was it a vegetable? Would I eat it here or there? Would I eat it anywhere?

I pried it open to see what was inside.

20130721-113819.jpg It appeared to be a flower. Could I, Would I, Should I eat this thing?

I made a hypothesis that it could be a Dragon Fruit Flower. I wasn’t sure if it was or what parts were edible and this concerned me. I googled and oogled. It seemed like it could be a Dragon Fruit Flower but I didn’t find many pictures of the flower bud from the outside or in this state. I couldn’t find credible sources. One of my blogger friends (www.naturallydiy.com) helped me out with her research and sent me a picture of a dragon fruit flower she saw at a botanical garden. So now that I had narrowed down what this was, I needed to find out how to use it.

The most information I could find in English about preparing it was on the website http://okinawaislandproduce.com/. There are two to three options for preparing this vegetable. The bud itself can be cooked as a vegetable such as in boiling water or a broth. The flower can be fried, sautéed or steeped as a tea. I used the two recipes from the site. The boiled vegetable went into a chicken broth for a soup and the sautéed flower was cooked with soy sauce and chili peppers. The sautéed flower was the one I liked better–to me it tasted like a mild cheese.

Here is what it looked like:

DSC03239 Cut up flower bud for cooking as a vegetable.

DSC03240Isolated flower ready for sautéing.

DSC03241 Into the skillet. DSC03242 It looks lovely browned. DSC03243I forgot to take a picture of it on my plate. I am sorry. I actually liked it though. DSC03244 Here is what it looked like after being boiled as a vegetable. The flavor is mild-it actually had very little flavor to me.

DSC03245Here it is in my soup with some purple okra!

The next day, I attended a local botanical garden with my husband and saw for myself what this mysterious Dragon Fruit Plant looked like.

DSC03302 DSC03301 DSC03299 DSC03297 DSC03296

So now you know how I wound up eating flowers.

I DO! I LIKE THEM, SAM-I-AM!

AND I WILL EAT THEM HERE AND THERE.
SAY! I WILL EAT THEM ANYWHERE!

-Dr. Seuss “Green Eggs and Ham”

Yoho, Yoho, a Yummy Life for Me

Bees are the only insect in the world that make food that people can eat. http://www.bees4kids.org.uk/fun-facts-about-honey-bees/

When you move to a foreign country, you sometimes seek familiar comforts only to realize that you don’t know where to look. Well, this quest wasn’t so complicated; I wanted honey. I knew that I could buy honey at the commissary, but what about local honey? Honey was one of the things I determined in my mind that I would find here.

I learned towards the end of my residence in Valdosta, Georgia of a place where I could enjoy pure, locally grown honey. Had I known that about 2 1/2 years prior, I could have been enjoying delicious honey for the whole 3 years that I lived there. I also learned of the amazing produce that could be found where I lived by journeying down the road from that Wal-Mart we relied far too heavily on. How easy it can be to mourn over your hometown comforts that you miss–and all the while you are missing opportunities your present location has to offer. I knew when I came to Okinawa, I needed to seek out the edible treasures of this island rather than cry about the lack of Texas Jalepenos, salsa verde, chorizo, leche quemada, chicken n’ dumplins’, sweet tea, Georgia Peaches, Rudy’s, and “The Smokin’ Pig!” Sure, I will miss the Texan and Georgian Specialties developed by rich Southern, Southwestern, and Mexican Heritage; but I brought that history with me. Plus, I can now learn from the Okinawans and add to that history. This is why I grow a garden using seeds from the past and the present.

So with the help of my friend Kaity, I sought out a honey shop called “Okinawa Yoho.” There are two locations for this store on the island (both off of Route 58) so we chose the southern location which is just past the Foster “Commissary Gate” and you will see it on your right. It has a honey bee on the sign and there is another blue sign on the neighboring shop that reads “No Hobby, No Life.” (Address: 901-2221 Ginowan City) We learned about the shop through our most beloved and relied upon community blog www.okinawahai.com, and planned a day to go check it out along with antique stores we found along the way.

DSC02814

DSC02815

As soon as we entered the shop, I could smell a subtle sweet aroma created by honey samples and homemade soaps. The hardwood floors and complementary shallow shelves were neatly stacked with Royal Jellies, Honey Blends, Edible Propolis, Ointments, handmade soaps, and of course pure locally harvested honey. Throughout the shop are small but detailed signs that are handwritten in elegant penmanship in English which give you information about the products.  In the center of the small shop we found a sample station in which you could grab a small cup and tiny plastic spoon to sample their honeys and honey blends. We were able to smell and compare the soaps. When I used Google translate to read their website, I noticed the phrase, “Our goods are backed by solid tongue!” right beside a picture of the sample station. I now understand what they meant. Before you buy it, you’ll know if you’ll like it–I did!

DSC02816

I bought Pure Honey, a blueberry honey blend, and one of the handmade soaps with a little over 2,000 yen (which is maybe $20). I have already had some honey with my coffee and it’s delicious. I couldn’t help but continue to think about the signs I saw in the shop regarding Propolis products so I did some research.

DSC02847

Honey Bee in Sunlight

Honey Bee in Sunlight (Photo credit: Scott Kinmartin)

“Propolis” is a Greek word that means, “Walls to prevent the invasion of the enemy.” This is no surprise seeing as how the medicinal use of Propolis dates back to 350 B.C. when the Greeks used it for Abscesses, Assyrians used it for healing wounds and tumors, and Egyptians used it for Mummification.  Today it is still used for infections that are caused by bacteria, cancer of the nose and throat, boosting of the immune system (which is also what we use honey for), gastro-intestinal problems, as an antioxidant, as an anti-inflammatory agent, to clean wounds from genital herpes and cold sores, on minor burns, and as a mouth wash that speeds healing after oral surgery. Current research shows that there is evidence that it does help with inflammation, oral healing, and cold sores. It is not an advised treatment for women who are pregnant or nursing, people with asthma, or people with allergies to bee products; although it is unknown if Propolis causes any harm to these individuals. Overall, you’ll find that anything created by bees, with the exception of bee stings, is beneficial. They benefit plants with pollination; they benefit people with fruits, vegetables, sweetness, and good health. So if you think you don’t like insects, reconsider the busy bee.

DSC02839

After our delicious visit to the honey shop we went on our way to find some antique stores which we did but along the way we also found a couple of other places we did not expect. First it was a small farmer’s market that couldn’t have been much larger than two standard sized bedrooms. This small market was tightly packed with more fresh, local produce than you would find in most supermarkets. Huge bright carrots, fresh bean sprout characteristic to authentic Japanese cooking, and colorful cabbages plus many more yummies that overflowed out of the crates. I didn’t buy much as I wanted to save some yen for the rest of the day but the next time I am in that area I will stop in and buy every fresh ingredient I can use for dinner that night.

DSC02838

DSC02837

A couple more antique shop visits and we spotted a shop called Plants + Nicoli. I don’t know the origins of the store name nor did we realize it wasn’t a plant shop, but once again we were surprised at the edible blessings that awaited us. First, I noticed as soon as we opened the shop door there was an aroma of banana bread mixed with other fresh baked goods. Second, I noticed rows upon rows of muffins that lined the counter on the left hand side. Third, I noticed all the gorgeous knick knacks on the right hand side of the shop that were characteristic of neat beach, garden, and home décor you would find in New England. Every corner of the shop was Pintrest-worthy with it’s beautiful details. So as you can imagine, I spent a couple more hundred yen (just $2) on some delicious muffins.

DSC02845DSC02844DSC02846

The honey bee travels extensively spreading pollen and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive so that it can refine the products it gathered from nature and create something beautiful. If it weren’t for the journey it went out on, the bee would not be able to make honey and less fruits and vegetables would be able to grow (The majority of pollination occurs due to bees, second only to wind). So like the honey bee, in our travels it is up to us to explore the environment around us, leave traces of our grace wherever we go, and bring back to our hive goods that will enrich our lives.

Keep Going and Growing,

Marissa