Continued from… Part I of Edible Flower Farm Tour.
As the rain abated, we stepped out into the fresh green of the backyard garden. Alejandro pointed out notable plants and flowers on our walk over to the farm.
We passed a thick pine picnic table that was oozing resin. The smell of pine penetrated the air. Brown mushrooms grew in various places from the wood.
“Not edible”, cautioned Alejandro.
Our garden tour took us up past a small pond and then we walked, single file, down a narrow path to a group of cages holding chickens, guinea pigs and rabbits, all waiting for their special moment on the dinner plate (yes, guinea pigs are food here).
We admired delicate whitish-pink curuba flowers, a member of the passion fruit family, and papaya plants with small papayas clinging to the trunk.
Down at the gate we nibbled on delicate pink petals that had the surprising flavor of green apples.
We crossed the country lane and walked down the dirt road to the vegetable garden. To the right is an old stable that Alejandro will use as the structure for his restaurant. The concept of the restaurant is to cook everything over an open fire; “Caveman style”, he comments. And of course, the vegetables will be farm fresh.
In the vegetable garden, the neatly planted rows were sown with seeds Alejandro had brought from France, the U.S. and Italy as well as seeds available in Colombia. To the left were neatly tended rows of vegetables, and to the right edible roots and fruit trees. Towards the back, behind the stable, young tomate de arbol trees stood in a line, with their fruits almost ready for picking.
I’ll admit: I was hesitant about this flower eating idea. Some of these plants were just not things I’m used to eating. For instance, a tall shrub with fern-like branches grows in the middle of the garden. Alejandro encouraged us to try it, so we cautiously tasted a few leaves – the first time that I’ve eaten a shrub. But to my relief, the strong licorice taste was pleasant.
We entered the rows and, under Alejandro’s direction, began sampling the plants we found along the way. To the far left was the broccoli row. The plants had shot out long stems with green and white flowers that, not surprisingly, tasted like broccoli. The next row had coriander, and the flowers have a distinctive taste similar to the leaves. A tall bush that we found unrecognizable turned out to be a pink pepper plant. The leaves are edible, and, surprisingly, they taste like…pink pepper.
The aracha plant (which I can’t find an English translation for) has a hollow stem and a bland taste, similar to its root, which is used in South America for soups.
When I got to the clover patch, I stared down at it, wondering if Alejandro was right and that stuff was edible. I mean, for humans. After watching others eat a few leaves, I also picked one, and was surprised by its distinct lemony tang. This lemon clover can be candied or pureed and used as a refreshing garnish for soups.
We came across a line of borage plants, the silvery green leaves shimmering against the dark soil. But I just stared at Alejandro when he said they taste like cucumber and oysters. That leaf tastes like seafood? I accepted the leaf he held out to me, brushed off the soil clinging to it, and took a cautious bite. He was right. Cucumber and seafood in one very vegetarian leaf.
On the way out to the road, Alejandro picked a stem from the ditch by the side of the road, broke it into pieces and gave each of us a piece to try. “It’s called Palo de Araña”, he explained. That name (Spider Stick) didn’t seem reassuring, but everyone else tried their piece so I did too. The reddish stem tasted acidic. Not among my favorites.
So the question was, how did he know what to eat and what to stay away from? Since he was a child, his father had taught him about the wonderful flavors around him. That sense of curiosity, which makes for a creative chef, has kept him not only tasting all these years but also sharing his discoveries.
Eating those delicate colors with their subtle, surprising flavors and unusual textures was a unique experience, thanks to this inventive chef with a passion for the farm fresh Colombian experience.
Alejandro Cuellar uses edible flowers to make fascinating creations:
Huerta Santa Beatriz Salad, named after his mom, has several variations. One is a carrot puree base with langostines, vinaigrette made with langostine oil, coriander leaves, beets, capuccina flower and clover.
Another dish that caught my attention: Dill panna cotta with suero costeño, elderberry flowers and pine leaves.
For more info, photos and explanations check out Alejandro Cuellar’s blog.