Wednesday, April 04, 2012
On one of our road trips a few years ago, E and I stopped at Fern Canyon, on the northern California coast. We drove the twisting, rising then steeply dropping dirt road to get to its parking lot, then took the short hike in from there. We passed elk grazing in the sea grasses.
The canyon itself is narrow, steep, and green. The small creek that runs through the canyon is wade-able, the stones at its bottom seem golden in the lime-y light. Because of the canyon's combination of location and narrowness, it sustains a microclimate that mirrors that of prehistory: humid, temperate, and unchanging. As such, the walls are quilted with lacy ferns and mosses. It is beautiful.
My yard is nothing like Fern Canyon. In the years we get rainy seasons, it rains so hard we can hardly see through the sheets of water. And when it isn't raining during the winter, it is windy, so windy that this year we lost power for four days. Then there is summer. No rain. None. We go nine months without any rain, and some days get so hot by the afternoon when the fire season starts, it feels like all the air is burning. Yet, in my garden, something grows that looks like it came straight from Fern Canyon.
It is salad burnet, Sanguisorba minor. It's a pretty perennial that, with a little maintenance, looks good all year. The leaves are toothy and ferny, and the same lush kelly green that lines Fern Canyon's walls. In the early spring, the plant sends up diamond-paveed drumhead flower buds that eventually shoot out frilly rosy hairs. They are weird and gorgeous. Though the plant feigns ferny fragility, it is tough; it deals with drought and heat and poor soil, and even late in the summer, if I give it a "haircut," I get a fresh batch of lush new growth.
The young leaves on this plant, unfurling as if on a frond, are toothsome and have a remarkably similar flavor to cucumber. I've used it in salads and in the filling of little tea sandwiches, combined with chives and cream cheese. I've also used it in "spa water," but in no other ways. Suggestions? How do you imagine using this pretty edible plant? And, while we're at it, should we coin a new word for ornamental edibles? How about prettibles?