Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not just any solanum - sunberry, wonderberry, litchi tomato and more


Seeds of Diversity and Feast of Fields...

I volunteered to represent Seeds of Diversity at the Feast of Fields last weekend and had a great time. It is an event that pairs a local, organic grower with a team of chefs to create fabulous dishes. As a volunteer, I was spared what I consider the heavy entrance fee, and was able to sample the vittles.

Sunberry / Wonderberry?..

As well as thoroughly enjoying talking to people about seed saving, I got to sample two interesting tomato relatives from Greta's Organic Gardens. The first was the 'wonderberry,' also known as sunberry (Solanum burbankii). What intrigued me about this little black berry was that it was very different from my 'sunberry' that I had purchased from Mapple Farms a couple years back. The berries (couldn't find the seed listing this year) of Greta's variety were larger, but the taste was more bland and skin was thicker. They are similar but much better tasting than Garden Huckleberry (Solanum melanocerasum).

It could be that the growing conditions on my plot were different but the morphology was too distinct from mine leading me to beleive that these really were different, though very similar plants. Interestingly, Baker's Seeds described Chichiquelite Huckleberry (Solanum nigrum) as slighlty larger than the sunberry, and it is part of the cross so I wonder if there are just different phenotypes out there?

I love my Sunberries even if their small size makes them tendious to pick. They are no more of a chore than picking blueberries. They are also tasty raw. Not just edible, but flavourable with a unique smoky 'blue' taste. They also self seeded in my garden. I transplated one into a semi shade area at the back of the yard which has been heavily ammended with organic matter over the years, and it has done quite well. This year we had less sunlight than usual with tomato growers complaining of slow ripening times so it is quite possible that the crop of self sown Sunberries would be respectable next year. We'll see.

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Self seeded sunberry plant growing in my raspberry bed

The Lovely Litchi Tomato...

Greta also allowed me to try litchi tomatoes (Solanum sysimbrifolium) which are apparently related to eggplants. The plant itself looks like a thorny tomato but the fruit has a small husk like the physalias. In fact, I would say that the seed reminds me of a tomatillo or something just as much as an eggplant.

It was delicious.

I immediately asked her if she would have some for sale next year because I will buy them. They were crisp, juicy, and fruity.

Ground Cherries...

It reminded me that I am going to try to get some ground cherries to self sow this year. I had one of Aunt Molly's ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa / prevuinia) pop up this year from last year's crop but it has not fruited and I do not think it will before next frost. Yuko, from Yuko's Open Pollinated Seeds, on the other hand often talks about where her ground cherries have migrated next. Many complain that ground cherries are a pain to pick as you have to wait until they are ripe and fall to the ground and you do not get a great deal of them but my kids love them and they do make a nice addition to desserts or salads even though I rarely get enough to bake a ground cherry pie. Last year, they also lasted in their husks until well into winter so they are worth growing again.

I would love to get my hands on the 'clammy ground cherry' (Physalis heterophylla Nees) which is a wild perennial around these parts though I have no idea how well it crops or how tasty it is but hey it would not hurt to try.

Don't eat a chinese lantern...

Because of my constant hunt for new vegetables, I decided to brave a chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi). There are claims that it is edible though there are also counter claims that though it won't poison you, it tastes awful.

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Chinese Lanterns in my garden littered with insect chew holes.

Yes, chinese lantern didn't kill me. Yes, it tasted AWFUL.

I suspect that indeed it had a high level of bitter alkaloids and the life preserving part of me said stop. So, I am happy to keep them in my yard as a trap crop for the colorado potato beetles, that love them above all other solanacea, but I will not be trying another.

And Tomatillos too...

What I would like to try to grow again are tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) though I am undecided as to the variety. I secured some seeds from Chris who runs the CSA common ground for 'Yellow tomatillos', which are actually yellow/purple in colour when ripe, but I also have Mapple Farm's 'Indian tomatillo' variety. The problem is that 'Yellow tomatillo' seems to split its husk whereas 'Indian tomaillo' does not. I find that members of the physalia family keep much better in their husks even if I think I like 'yellow tomatillo's' taste better. Decisions, decisions.

1 comment:

Blackswamp_Girl said...

YAY!!! I'm so glad to see you back--I finally gave up a couple of weeks ago and deleted your other blog from my blogroll, but was very sad to have to do so. I can't wait to start keeping up with this one instead. :)