Thursday, November 10, 2016

Growing Cassava

Manihot esculenta 001.jpg
Cassava, also known as Yuca, is a shrub native to South America.  It was served at the best steak houses in Venezuela in the 70s, where I grew up, before the country's economy collapsed.  I doubt there remain any steak houses open there, but surely there must still be people growing this delicious staple.

Cassava grows well in Central Florida were we live.  Although it is readily available at the grocery stores around us, most of the time it has been sprayed with a shiny wax material, so roots bought at the store will not grow.

Thankfully, there are plenty of people growing cassava in Florida, so either you get some from a friend or buy some on eBay.  I bought organic cuttings from a seller (goodsam330) in Ft. Myers because I can grow the plants in our small greenhouse and have them ready to plant in March after the ground warms up again.

I think the plant itself is very nice, looks quite ornamental/decorative, so it could even be grown as edible landscaping in a subdivisions property with strict rules about keeping ornamentals only.  It also has an interesting use that my eBay seller pointed out on his item description:


"TROPICAL JUNGLE: One cassava plant can block the view from a neighbor you don't want to see.  The picture (above) in a 70 gallon pot is doing just that."

My favorite way of eating "yuca" is fried with a cilantro/tomatillo dip.  You first have to boil it until soft before frying.  It is also good boiled with olive oil or butter and chopped parsley over it.  In college I had a friend from India who would boil it, then sautee mustard seeds and pour them over it - delicious!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Young Calabaza pumpkin currently in our garden
In the last two months, I have been in a whirlwind of learning new information and change.  I recently discovered the concept of food forests and permaculture.  It has been an eye-opening experience.  Through the years, we have discovered a few vegetable varieties which are well suited to our Florida, semi-tropical climate - calabaza squash and everglades 
The banana patch
tomatoes, for example.  These crops pointed me in the direction of the permaculture ideas, focusing on species which naturally produce very well where we live without the addition of pesticides.  I have discovered that many tropical plants can do well in Central Florida in spite of our yearly frosts and even hard freezes.  We have a cluster of banana trees which has been producing bananas for years.  I planted it in a sheltered location where it receives morning sun and filtered afternoon light.  It grows near our chicken coop, which I know provides fertilizer for it year-round.  This has been proof for me that tropical plants can and will grow well here if we take advantage of microclimates around our property.  

It has been exciting to find books like Gaia's Garden and blogs like David the Good's, which have been resources that have reinforced what we've learned and encouraged us to begin planting our own nascent food-generation machine..  We have about an acre of available land that we have begun working on, preparing for perenial plants which we hope will grow and produce great food, as we watched recently on this inspirational Return to Eden video.

This weekend we have plans to go to the h.e.a.r.t. 4th Garden Celebration.   I am looking forward to the lectures and getting a tour of their food forest and gardens.

Here's a video about h.e.a.r.t. - "It's about thriving, not just living..."

Image result for banana blossomLast weekend, we went to our local oriental market and saw banana blossoms for sale in the produce section.  That reminded me that we actually had three banana bunches with beautiful blossoms hanging, ready for cutting.  Little did we know we could actually harvest them.  I found this recipe, and everyone enjoyed it.

Delicious Banana Blossom Curry


2 banana blossoms
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Chopped banana blossom
2 tsp black mustard seeds
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 dried red chili, crushed
20 curry leaves
3 cm piece ginger, grated
½ tsp ground turmeric
120 g (1 cup) fresh coconut, grated (see Note)
125 ml (½ cupr) settled coconut cream (see Note)
steamed rice, naan and eggplant and mango chutneys, to serve


Remove purplish-red outer bracts from banana blossoms. Discard flower-like clusters and chop inner bracts into 3 cm pieces. Place in a bowl filled with 2 liters water, lemon juice and 1 tbsp salt, to prevent browning. Cut the banana blossom cores in half, roughly chop and add to acidulated water.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and cook, shaking pan, for 2 minutes or until seeds begin to pop. Add onions, chili, curry leaves, ginger and turmeric, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until onions are golden. Remove from heat.

Drain banana blossoms. Return pan to medium heat, add banana blossoms, grated coconut and coconut cream, and cook for 2 minutes or until heated through and banana blossoms have changed color. Serve with rice, naan and chutneys.

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