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When I was going to school in North Vancouver we did our practicum at Park & Tilford Gardens. This is a tiny jewel which is now part of a larger shopping center. It is divided into several gardens which feature particular themes and styles. there are rose, herbal, oriental, native, white and a colonnade garden. The colonnade garden was a long curving walk which as under a massive pergola which was covered by enormous vines and flanked on both sides with many hanging baskets of Fuchsias. The vines had enormous green leaves which were covered with tiny hairs. To my surprise and delight discovered they were hardy Kiwi(Actinidia deliciosa)  vines which produced a crop of tasty fruit every fall.

 Kiwi fruit - Actinidia deliciosa

Some yummy Kiwi fruit growing, they still have a few months until they will be ripe.

At the time I saw these Kiwi vines at Park & Tilford Gardens, the fruit was relatively new to the grocery scene and was seen as an exotic novelty. When I moved to the Victoria area I would drive by several fields of what I thought were grape crops, I soon realized that they were actually Kiwi fruit vines. Kiwi have been grown as a commercial crop in the Saanichton area since 1985.  The first crops were harvested in 1988 and amounted to 1/4 million pounds of fruit. Now we get fresh organic fruit every year and  products such as wines, jellies and syrups are made locally.

Commercial Kiwi production.

Commercial Kiwi production fields can be found on the Saanich Peninsula.

Actinidia deliciosa and A. chineisis where at one time considered to be the same species, both produce large fruit with chinensis having less green pulp. There are many crosses between the two species and many of these are now grown commercially.   There are 55+ species of Actinidia and all species originate in Asia from Siberia through into more tropical areas.There are several other species which are much hardier that deliciosa or chinensis which are grown in colder areas. Another interesting thing is that these plants are single sexed(dioecious) in other words: if you want fruit you will need two Kiwi plants, a female and a male to produce fruit.

Female Actinidia deliciosa flowers

These appear to be female Actinidia deliciosa flowers.

Actinidia species are vigorous vining plants which can grow to 30 m(over 90ft). When developing plants for producing optimal crops regular pruning is done.  Kiwi fruit are best grown with support just like you would with grapes. They require 1 male to 9 females to get the best pollination for fruit developement. The male should be situated up wind from the female.

This wooden pergola with extra wire is a good support for this developing crop of Kiwis.

Kiwi  plants grow best in full sun with moisture retentive nutrient rich soil. They will tolerate some wet soils as long as it is well-drained. They are sensitive to fertilizer, so if you use it dilute more than normal so it odes not burn the plants.  Kiwis have fairly large leaves therefore they should be placed in areas without high winds which could damage them. Pruning is done when they are dormant and 1/3 of the vine which has grown that season should be removed.

Two types of commercially grown Actinidia deliciosa fruit.

Actinidia deliciosa and chinesis and their hybrids tolerate zone 8(-10c or 32f), it kept colder for any length of time damage will be done to the vines. Other species of Actinidia are much more coldd tolerant, taking zone 4(-30c or f).  They offer a touch of the exotic to your cold climate and give you attractive foliage, large flowers which are fragrant. These plants would not necessarily be grown for their cherry size fruit. I think Actinidia kolomitka is the most attractive with the tips of it’s leaves seeming to have been dipped in white and pink paint.
More on the fuzzy fruit:

All you want to know about Actinidia deliciosa: http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/kiwifruit.html

How to Grow Kiwi fruit: http://www.ehow.com/how_4686554_grow-kiwi-actinidia.html

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It’s like you getting two posts for the price of one….and it’s free and fun.

Kim and I have decided to change our blog format to make it easier for us and you to use. We have decided to remove our separate pages and just post now. We each will post on a different day. Instead of one big post a month, there now will be two smaller ones, one on recipes and the other on the plant itself and how to grow it.  This month we are posting on Tomatoes,  I am posting first on this Well Traveled Fruit. Kim will post next Wedsday.

Yum,Yum,Yum! Soon to be ripe tomaotes.

Yum,Yum,Yum! Soon to be ripe tomaotes.

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Star Anise is our Spice Choice for June!

In my volunteer job I have cataloged the plants of a very large property in the Victoria area. This entails comparing the on hand information with what I know and can find out from various reputable sources that are available to me. The plant collection was mostly planted nearly 100 years ago and this has lead me to become interested in other similar collections of the same age in the area. One such collection is very close to where I live and i was lucky to meet a lady who had done exactly the same job there. She briefly told me about the collection and then showed me a plant which does not grow anywhere else that she or I knew of. It was the Star Anise(Illicium vernum) the wonderful sweet licorice-like spice plant.

The interesting Illicuim vernum flowers which are related to Magnolias.

The interesting Illicuim vernum flowers which are related to Magnolias.

Here in the Victoria area Star Anise are absolutely at the coldest limits of where it can survive. Normally these plants grow into trees up to 5m (18ft) tall, yet here and in the in warmer areas of Great Britain it can only muster up a lumpy 3m (9-10ft) shrub form.  This shrub is a common site in many areas of Asia including Vietnam north through China and Korea. It was imported into Japan by Buddhists and is often found growing beside temples and in grave sites. It is now grown in southeastern U.S.A. as a spice crop.

Illicium vernum Also Known as Star Anise or Aniseed.

Illicium vernum Also Known as Star Anise or Aniseed.

Medicinally Star Anise has many useful properties. It has commonly been used as a carminative(reducing flatulence and other internal gases) , stimulant and as a stomachic which strengthens and tones the stomach. It is useful in promoting digestion and appetite which is not surprising as that is what the other ‘Anise’(Pimpinella anisum) is used for. It has also been used for colic in babies and a treatment for rheumatism. With it’s wonderful and strong flavor, it is often added to medicines to make them more palatable.  Homeopaths make a weak infusion or prescribe a stronger tincture which is diluted in a liquid.  This will be made using the crushed seeds. the bark is pounded and used to make fragrant insense.

Star Anise Seeds are starting to develope from a recent bloom.

Star Anise Seeds are starting to develope from a recent bloom.

To grow one of these interesting plants you will need to live in a warm climate to produce the best specimen.  Zone 8 or above is a must to produce one a healthy Illicium vernum. It likes light sandy to medium loamy soil which is well drained. It grows best in a shaded position which is protected from cold winds to protect it’s glossy dark green evergreen leaves. As a shrub it has many uses such as in a shrub boarder or as a screen or fragrant hedge. it also works well as background shrub which can be used in a shady area.

Star Anise with it's star-like seed capsules.

Star Anise with it's star-like seed capsules.

The Latin name of ‘Star Anise‘ is Illicuim (meaning allurement) vernum (which refers to spring).  As you can see the fruit capsules are formed into a star-like structure which is where the plant gets it’s name. There are even better examples that the above picture, maybe the cold effects the fruit structure.

The flowers of Illicium vernum are very primitive.

The flowers of Illicium vernum are very primitive.

To find out more about Star Anise:

The Wiki page is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_anise

The best place to learn about any spice: http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Illi_ver.html

Until next month….

From Kim: Star Anise – June’s Herb of Choice!

This month we’re featuring a great spice very well known in Asian cooking. I admit I am still a novice in Chinese, Thai, and Japanese cuisine but I do love to dabble with herbs and learn all I can. All over China, five spice powder (Mandarin wu xiang fen [五香粉], Cantonese ngh heung fan [五香粉], according to dubious sources also hung-liu) is known and valued. This spice mixture contains star anise, cassia (or cinnamon), cloves, fennel and Sichuan pepper usually to equal parts. Optionally, ginger, galanga, black cardamom or even liquorice may be added. These spices should be kept whole and powdered before usage.

Illicium verum: Star anis flower
Star anise flower – www.botany.hawaii.edu © Gerald Carr

Five spice powder is often added to a batter made from egg white and cornstarch, which is used to coat meats and vegetables to keep them moisty and succulent during deep-frying. Meat is also frequently coated with a mixture of corn starch and five spice powder and deep-fried. Lastly, it is often contained in marinades for meat to be stir-fried. Since the mixture is very aromatic, it should be used with care. The subtle aroma of five spice powder is particularly effective in steamed foods. Steamed pork belly can indeed be a delicacy, even if it is, of course, never low in fat. For this recipe, the so-called five-flower cut is used that consists of three fatty and two lean layers. The meat is marinated in soy sauce and garlic, coated by a mixture of five-spice powder and ground, toasted rice and steamed until very tender (wu hua rou [五花肉]). This pork dish is very mild, but highly aromatic and pleasing. For more examples of star anise in Chinese cookery, see orange about the Sichuan-style beef stew au larm and cassia about master sauce. Outside China, star anise is less valued. In the North of Vietnam, it is popular for beef soups (see Vietnamese cinnamon). Star anise is also used in Thailand: In the North, it is often employed in long-simmered stews; elsewhere, especially in the tropical South, it is a common flavourant for ice tea. Thai iced tea (cha dam yen [ชาดำเย็น]) is brewed from black tea and flavoured with star anise powder, sometimes also cinnamon, licorice, vanilla and orange flowers; it is enjoyed with crushed ice, sugar and evaporated milk. To obtain a bright orange colour, azo dyes (typically, tartrazine) are usually added.
Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages | see Jen’s page also for more information on Star Anise

So for my menu using this wonderful herb, I’ve chosen 2: Beef Noodle Soup – Taiwanese-Style and Red Cooked Beef! I think you’ll love using this herb and trying either dish. Plus soups just smells so good when cooking.

When you purchase star anise, get the dark brown and not other anise powders which have a gray color.

Beef Noodle Soup – Taiwanese-Style

Ingredients:
5 c. water
1 c. soy sauce
1 c. Chinese rice wine
1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1 (1-inch) cube peeled fresh ginger, smashed
1 bunch scallions, white parts smashed with flat side of a large knife and green parts chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed
10 fresh cilantro stems plus 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs
2 (2-inch-long) pieces Asian dried tangerine peel*
4 whole star anise
1/4 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes
2-1/2 lbs. meaty beef short ribs
1-3/4 c. reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 ounces)
10 ounces dried Chinese wheat noodles* or linguine
1 c. fresh mung bean sprouts
4 tbsp. Chinese pickled mustard greens**
1 (4-inch-long) fresh red chile (optional), thinly sliced

Preparation:
Bring water, soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, ginger, white parts of scallion, garlic, cilantro stems, tangerine peel, star anise, and red pepper flakes to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart pot, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add short ribs and gently simmer, covered, turning occasionally, until meat is very tender but not falling apart, 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours. Let meat stand in cooking liquid, uncovered, 1 hour.

Transfer meat to a cutting board with tongs and discard bones and membranes, then cut meat across the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Pour beef broth through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl and discard solids. Skim fat from cooking liquid and transfer liquid to a 3-quart saucepan. Add chicken broth and meat and reheat soup over moderately low heat.

Meanwhile, cook noodles in a 6- to 8-quart pot of (unsalted) boiling water until tender, about 7 minutes (14 to 15 minutes for linguine). Drain noodles well in a colander and divide among 4 large soup bowls.

Ladle broth over noodles and top with meat, scallion greens, bean sprouts, pickled mustard greens, cilantro sprigs, and red chile (if using).  Note: Meat and beef broth can be cooked and strained three days ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then chill meat in broth, covered. Skim fat before adding chicken broth.

Next Up: Red Cooked Beef!

Ingredients:
2 lbs. chuck steak boneless
2 tbsp. peanut oil
2 scallions cut to 2 inch length
4 slices ginger root
2 pieces Star Anise
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. dry sherry
1 c. water
2 dried red chilies, optional

Preparation:
Cut beef into 1 inch cubes and sear on all sides in hot oil in a heavy pot. Add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook covered on low heat about 2 hours or until meat is tender. This should reduce liquid to approximately 1/2 cup. If more than 1/2 cup liquid remains, uncover and increase temperature to boil liquid away to approximately 1/2 cups. Serves 6.

Be sure the beef is fresh and has a good expiration date. I don’t like to buy any beef with less than 2 days expiration date. And boy when this dish is done the meat melts off the fork and is so flavorful! Try using star anise in your next meal if you haven’t tried it. I would always caution too that if you’re using a spice for the first time, try a little at first. You can always add more, but you can’t take out! ENJOY! Until next month….

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