August 12, 2014 by Tess Riley
My boyfriend and I like to do crosswords together. It might not sound particularly sexy to the uninitiated, but there’s nothing more comforting than rolling up in a rug together on a summer’s evening in the park, glass of wine in one hand, crossword in the other.
The handy thing about said boyfriend is his strong beard, which offers the perfect place for storing a pen or two when doing the crossword. What we hadn’t realised until recently, however, was that this dashing beard is also the perfect parking spot for flowers – or, more precisely, edible flowers from The Food Assembly.
When we arrived at the Food Assembly Hackney Wick launch last month, we began by sampling the seaweed – ‘Welshman’s caviar’ from Lockie’s Shell Fish – and checking out the cheeses. It wasn’t long however before a large punnet of beautiful flowers from Brambletye Fruit Farm was thrust into our hands, full of purple and orange biodynamic flowers. They were delicious, particularly the peppery nasturtiums, and before long Thom was popping a few in his beard for storage – ‘saving them for later’ he said – and with that we were off to discover other culinary delights.
Although eating flowers may come as a surprise to some, these tasty treats are tame personified compared to some rather more extreme ‘unexpected edibles’. While some – like snake wine – are far from sustainable, there are unusual foods out there that can be both nutritious and help reduce some of the demands we place on our current food system. Let’s start with bugs…
1. Last year, the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation produced a report entitled Edible insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security [PDF] in which it argues that entomophagy, or the consumption of insects, is nothing new and can contribute positively to the environment, to health and to livelihoods. How? Not only are insects’ highly nutritious, they can be harvested in the wild. Importantly, the report puts this in the context of the predicted 9 billion global population by 2050 and the almost 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide today, as well as the impacts that over-farming and –fishing, climate change, and freshwater shortages are having on our food supply. Ready to try some bugs? Miles Olson’s Unlearn, Rewild gives a fantastic insight into salt-and-vinegar ants, roasted crickets and superfood maggots. Yum.
2. If you’re feeling a little queasy, let’s move onto the less delicate topic of eggs. Century eggs are eggs preserved over several weeks or months, traditionally just in alkaline clay, although over time the likes of wood ash and quicklime have been incorporated into the process. In the past this enabled people to store their eggs in a way that prevented them from spoiling, and while the white does turn dark brown and the yolk turns dark green or grey, century eggs are still eaten today – including in a Chinese wedding dish known as lahng-poon my Hong Kong cousins tell me. Grossed out by the thought of eating rotten egg? Let’s not forget how cheese is made peoples…
3. For all those fans of 5-a-day out there, have you tried nettles? Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – or ‘Fearnley-Fearnley’ as I affectionately like to call him – points out that these are a ‘fantastically tasty, nutritious and absolutely free foodstuff [that] beats both spinach and broccoli for vitamins and minerals’. What’s more, he goes beyond the bog-standard nettle soup suggestion, detailing nettle spanakopita and nettle risotto too… foodies, get your aprons on.
4. So finally, to bulls’ testicles – how every good article should end. Also known as Rocky Mountain oysters, criadillas, and by some stomach-turning terms such as ‘dusted nuts’ and ‘swinging beef’, these fried bulls’ bits are popular in parts of the world where bovine castration is common – in other words, cattle ranches. Since the primary goal of testicle removal isn’t culinary, eating these bull balls is helping turn a formerly waste product into something nutritious, totally in line with Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating concept. If it helps, keep reminding yourself how eco-friendly you’re being when you take a bite…
So that’s it – a few unexpected edibles for you to get your teeth into should you feel brave enough. But remember mes cheris – don’t just go popping whatever slugs, flowers (and animal testicles?!) you find in your gardens onto your plate. Like mushrooms, you need to know what you’re looking for before you start dabbling in the dark arts of dungbeetles and co.
This article was originally published on The Food Assembly blog here.