Spice it Up

Bring some different flavours into your kitchen this autumn with a few of these more unusual harvests.

Carob (Ceratonia siliqua)
This hardy, drought-tolerant, evergreen tree is native to the eastern Mediterranean, so thrives in similar conditions in Australia. Carob trees prefer well-drained soil in a sunny position and they are relatively pest free.

With glossy green leaves and flowers in summer, followed by seed pods in autumn, carob trees reach a height of 5-7m but can be kept trimmed to a smaller shrub or hedge.

Trees are dioecious, meaning they can be either male, female or bi-sexual, and you won’t know until the plant flowers at 3-6 years old. So, it is best to look for a grafted, self-fertile variety such as ‘Clifford’.

Seed pods mature in late autumn and early winter, turning a dark brown and dropping to the ground. The flesh of them can be used as a healthy and nutritious alternative to chocolate. Pour boiling water over fresh pods and leave them to soak overnight. The softened pods can be blended to a pulp and added to cakes or smoothies. You can create carob powder as an alternative to cocoa powder by roasting and then grinding up the pods. Little carob cupcakes were a favourite of mine as a child and I still love an unsweetened carob frog from the health food shop.

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Ginko biloba

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Ginkgo is also known as the maidenhair tree thanks to its delicate, fan-shaped leaves (similar to those of the maidenhair fern). Ginkgo trees are a very slow growing, yet highly attractive, deciduous feature tree. They like a sunny position in well-drained soil and will tolerate a range of climatic conditions.

Considered drought tolerant once established, they are relatively low maintenance. However, a seasonal application of a nitrogen-rich fertiliser will encourage lush new growth.

Before the leaves change colour and fall at the end of autumn, they can be picked and used for their many medicinal benefits. Various studies suggest ginkgo is beneficial for conditions including alzheimer’s and for improving blood flow and immune strengthening.

The leaves can be used fresh or dried and made into a tea. As with all complementary therapies, it’s best to consult your doctor before taking as it may interfere with other medications.

Sawtooth coriander (Eryngium foetidum)
Are you a serial coriander killer? Or it bolts before you use it? Then sawtooth coriander, also known as perennial coriander, is a wonderful alternative to the traditional annual variety.

I first discovered sawtooth coriander in Vietnam five years ago and since then I’ve been trying to track down either seeds or seedlings here in Australia. Thankfully I’ve just stumbled across this gem of a plant in the herb seedling range from Tavistock Nurseries (they have distinctive hot pink pots, easily spotted in garden centres).

Much hardier than annual coriander during hot weather, sawtooth corriander loves a full-sun position in a moist but well-drained soil. It is ideal to grow in pots, particularly if you are in a frost-prone area.

As the name suggests, its leaves are long and have serrated, saw-like edges. Cut off flowering stems to keep the leaves soft and tender.

Its flavour is very similar to annual coriander – in my opinion perhaps a little less metallic. Use the leaves as you like, either fresh or cooked through Asian and Mexican-inspired dishes.

Shell ginger (Alpine nutans)

Shell ginger (Alpinia nutans)

Cardamom
True cardamom (that produces the seeds we buy from the supermarket to use in cooking) is Elettaria cardamomumthis plant is grown commercially in tropical areas of India and Asia, close to the equator. Those living in far north Queensland could try growing it.

For the rest of us, there is false cardamom or shell ginger (Alpinia nutans), which can easily be grown in frost-free gardens across Australia. Here in Melbourne, my plant is happily growing in a sheltered position on the south side of the house amongst a taller collection of ferns – and it couldn’t be happier.

Although Alpinia nutans doesn’t really produce a crop of pods and seeds for harvest (and any that are produced don’t have the true cardamom flavour), its sweet, spicy leaves can be used to flavour dishes. Fold a leaf and add it to your rice while it cooks, or let a bouquet of tied leaves simmer in your curry to release their flavour.

This hardy and lush evergreen plant grows to around 1m high and likes a sheltered (or understory) position in a moist, rich soil. Flowers appear in autumn, but the leaves can be harvested throughout the year.

True curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii)
The curry leaf tree should not be confined to growing in the tropics and sub tropics. It will grow well in a sheltered position in rich yet well-drained soil. If you live in a cooler climate, it’s best to grow it in a pot so you can move it to a warmer position (such as a north facing verandah) during the winter months.

The plentiful, soft, fern-like leaves have a spicy curry aroma when crushed and release their best flavour when fried. Pick the leaves as you need them for curries, chutneys and sauces.

 

About the Author – Chloe Thomson
Chloe grew up surrounded by a family passionate about organic gardening. She completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and is now eager to share her love of growing and cooking your own food.

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