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      Text and photographs are © by Ellen Spector Platt & Ellen Zachos, all rights reserved.

      Showing posts with label Apios americana. Show all posts
      Showing posts with label Apios americana. Show all posts

      Sunday, December 5, 2010


      What does this look like to you?

      I call it a win-win-win situation!

      For those of you who are wondering why I'm so excited about a pile of dirty tubers, I refer you to an earlier post in which I waxed rhapsodic about Apios americana (aka hopniss). I promised I'd write about the harvest when the time was right, and that time is now.

      So why is harvesting the tubers a win-win-win situation?

      1) The plant/client wins because harvesting a percentage of the tubers makes room for vigorous new growth next year. (Remember, this plant is a fast grower and its tubers can fill a container in no time.)

      2) I win because I get to eat them.

      3) You win, because I've got extras and I want to give them away!

      The vines grew like crazy this summer, so I wasn't surprised to find the container (48" x 12" x 18") chock full of tubers when I did my clean up last week. Hopniss tubers grow in underground chains, radiating out from the bottom of the plant. Harvesting approximately 30% of the tubers in fall leaves plenty to support next year's plant growth and at the same time provides you with some excellent and unusual eating.

      Apios americana is a favorite wild edible among foragers, but it's only recently crossed over into the ornamental market. In the wild it can be hard to dig, since it often favors rocky soils and river banks. In a cultivated garden, Apios fairly explodes with gratitude, climbing 20-30 feet in a single season and producing a bumper crop of deliciousness.

      The tubers look a little more appetizing after a good bath, don't you think? I'll peel the larger ones, but most of the year-old hopniss can be eaten with the skins on. This year they're destined for goose fat, S&P and that's it. The taste of hopniss is so superb, like a nutty potato, I don't mask it with sauces or heavy spicing. Goose fat compliments their fluffy texture wonderfully.

      But enough about me...what about you? Well, some of the tubers I harvested are too small to eat, but plenty big enough to plant.

      Bury each tuber three times as deep as it is tall and you're in business. (If you can keep the squirrels away, that is.) If anyone's interested, please let me know and I'll make arrangements to get you a few. First come, first serve. And don't worry, you don't HAVE to eat them. Feel free to just revel in their heady scent come next August.

      Tuesday, September 21, 2010

      late-breaking news on my favorite legume

      Just when you thought (ok, I thought) it couldn't get any better... Apios americana makes me love it even more. "How is that possible?" you ask. One word: beans.

      I was startled yesterday, pleasantly of course, to find a handful of beans on the hopniss vine at a client's terrace. It looks like each flower cluster produces only one bean. Is that a pollination issue or a question of how much fruit the vine can support? I've had the plant there for three years and harvested tubers on several occasions, but this is the first year I've found beans. The vine doesn't usually produce beans this far north, although friends in NC report large annual harvests.

      What to do? What to do?

      The first time I taste a new wild edible, I like to prepare it in a relatively plain way, no sauces, minimal seasoning. Since I didn't have enough for a meal, I decided to make an amuse bouche, sauteing the beans in olive oil with just a little (really, only a little) garlic, and some S&P. Ok, and a little summer savory.

      The taste was delicious but the texture left a little something to be desired. The two smallest beans were tender, but the outer shells of the larger beans were too fibrous to be pleasantly chewable. Still, the taste was so good that I'll go back and look for more. Maybe a preliminary blanching would soften up the outer bean. Suggestions, anyone?

      Tuesday, August 31, 2010

      The Apios americana are in bloom again...

      (and yes, I'm quoting Stage Door)

      Every year I forget they're coming. Every year I'm surprised by their fragrance. Every year I ask myself, "Why don't more people grow this plant?!"

      Seriously, I don't understand it. I can only imagine no one knows about it because anyone who saw it, smelled it, tasted it ONCE, would be enraptured, addicted, hooked!

      Apios americana (aka hopniss) is an athletic vine that grows best in full sun. In NYC it blooms profusely in late August (i.e. NOW), with a heavy perfume that will not be ignored. I wouldn't want to wear it (I don't wear perfume) but I sure love to smell it in the garden. Its leaves resemble those of wisteria (medium green, pinnate) and its flowers are not dissimilar, although the round, fragrant clusters are smaller than those of wisteria and bi-colored: red and pink.

      The edible part of this plant is the tuber. It's too early to harvest them now; wait till after the first frost. And delicious as the tubers are (and they ARE delicious), today I want to convince you of Apios's ornamental value.

      This is a trouble free plant, requiring almost no work from the gardener. In the ground it will take as much space as you give it, but it's equally happy in a container, and therefore well suited to NYC rooftops. It's not a demure plant; give it a large container of its own, then get out of the way. I'd estimate 20-25 feet of growth in a single growing season. That's enough to fully mask an unattractive railing or make an impressive statement against a bamboo fence. The vines remain thin and green, never becoming woody like wisteria, so it's easy to cut them back to the ground each year (and dig up a few tubers for supper...oh wait! I wasn't going to talk about that.) All you have to do is keep twining it in the direction you want it to go.

      What are you waiting for?

      Thursday, November 12, 2009

      it's a floor polish, it's a dessert topping...

      All hail Apios americana!

      What? Never heard of it? I'm not surprised. You won't find it at a big box store; it takes a special kind of nursery to offer this plant.

      Maybe people just don't understand how to classify Apios americana (aka hopniss, aka groundnut). Is it an edible? an ornamental? A. americana is both of these and more. Without exaggeration I offer you:

      - an ornamental vine with a fragrant and lovely flower;
      - a low maintenance plant, growing approximately 10 feet in a season;
      - a perennial that grows in sun to part shade, tolerates wet and dry soils, and like most legumes, thrives in poor soils;
      - a delicious tuber; after letting the plant establish for 2 years, you can harvest a crop each fall without sacrificing performance the following year.

      I found no reference to growing Apios in containers, but decided to take a chance in a tight corner of a client's terrace. I wanted something that would mask the railing and grow well in a half day of sun. And if, perchance, I got to harvest a meal from the container at the end of the season...well, how nice for me!

      The leaves of A. americana are typically leguminous: pinnately compound with 5-7 leaflets.

      Flowers are wisteria-esque; individual blooms are pink on the outside, reddish on the inside (Georgia O'Keefe fans take note) and borne in clusters. They bloom in August/September and you'll often smell their intense perfume before you notice the flower visually.

      Tubers form inches below the soil surface and grow in chains, with the older tubers being the largest. When you cut back the vines in fall (as I did earlier this week), it's the perfect time to dig up a meal.

      In the wild this plant often colonizes rocky soils, making the tubers difficult to dig. In the cultivated soil of a back yard garden or a rooftop container, however, digging up a meals' worth of hopniss is quick and easy. I don't claim it's foraging, but it sure is fun.

      I like my hopniss roasted, but you can boil, bake, or saute them...whatever your little heart desires. The taste is nutty and dense, like a cross between a potato and a peanut.

      Whether you want to eat the tubers or merely gaze upon the lovely Apios, do me a favor. Ask for it wherever you shop for plants. Ask for it every time you go in. Ask until you wear them down. It's a tactic that works surprisingly well. In the meantime, you can find A. americana in Brooklyn at Gowanus Nursery and via mailorder from Brushwood Nursery.

      P.S. If you get the title of this post, please let me know.

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