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Quirky fruits & vegetables to grow and cook at home
From odd fruit to alien looking veg, these are my top 10 unusual edibles to grow in your garden. All will add interest to both your veg patch & your plate. Includes a video at the end.
The benefits of growing your own fruit and vegetables are many – reduced food miles, healthy exercise, truly Organic produce, self sufficiency, and a closer relationship with the land. Another is being able to choose from a vast selection of different varieties that you’ll never see in a supermarket. Heirloom tomatoes in wild shapes and sizes, foreign vegetables you’ve never heard of before, and common veg in uncommon colours.
Every year I try to grow something out of the ordinary and in the past five years some of them have graduated from trial to garden staple. Growing unusual varieties adds excitement and diversity to your plate and is just plain fun! These are my top 10 unusual edibles but for more ideas, check out these Unusual fruits & vegetables for the Home Grower.
Tigernuts are a grass that grow loads of sweet tubers under the ground, similar to peanuts. They can be grown in temperate climates but are found more often in warmer areas. In Europe, this African edible is traditionally grown in Spain, where it was introduced by the Arabs.
Said to taste of a combination between almonds and coconut, Tigernuts are best grown in containers in a warm and sunny place. If your summers don’t match those of Spain, it might be a good idea to grow your ‘Chufa’ in a greenhouse.
Red Meat “Watermelon” Radish
This rather large radish has green and white skin and a vivid magenta interior. Unlike other radish varieties, you need to sow this one in late summer or autumn as it tends to bolt when sown too early. Pull them up during the cooler months to use grated into winter salads or pickles.
Cucamelons “Mouse Melons”
Cucamelons are very easy to grow and will vine up anything vertical to a height of up to eight feet. The small watermelon looking fruits are crunchy but another gardening pal has warned that the skins can become tough if the fruit is left too long on the vine. Once you have a plant, place it in a sunny spot, ideally with protection from wind. A greenhouse or polytunnel would be a good idea
White strawberries, also called Pineberries, came onto my radar a couple of years ago. They’re not genetically engineered but rather a rediscovered old variety. The colour of these berries is certainly intriguing but it’s functional too – I’ve not had any problems with birds eating them at all. As for taste, I’d say they are slightly less sweet than a strawberry and have a citrus kick. Others say that they taste like a cross between strawberries and pineapple.
You might be able to find plants for sale in a local nursery, but try to get runners off any friends who are growing them first. Here’s more details on growing them.
This odd type of broccoli is a lesson in fractals and its swirls of green spiky peaks are a wonder to see. I remember them being marketed as ‘Broccoflower’ when they first came out and the flavour isn’t too far from that description. Romanesco broccoli is as easy to grow as other brassicas so treat them like you would your cabbages and cauliflower.
Oca ‘New Zealand Yam’
Originating from south America, Oca is considered one of the ‘Lost crops of the Incas’. The greens of the plant look very similar to wood sorrel, and you can use them in the same way. The knobby tubers that form underground are like lemony water chestnuts when raw and lemony potatoes when cooked. The plants need a fairly long growing period and only begin growing their red, white, pink, and other coloured tubers in the autumn. Harvest time is anywhere from November to January. The Real Seed Company has more information on growing them.
Achocha “Fat Babies”
These South American pods that are nicknamed ‘Fat Babies’ are very easy to grow in temperate climates. Achocha will cover an entire wall if you let them and their green pods with their silky and soft spikes taste like a combination of cucumber and green bell pepper. Since peppers need warmth and tend to be grown in greenhouses in Britain, Achocha are the perfect alternative. They’re profuse, can be grown outside, and are fantastic in stir-fries and any other dish you’d normally use peppers in.
Cape gooseberries, also known as Physalis or ground cherry, look like mini yellow tomatoes and have a mildly sweet flavour. They’re interesting to display in fruit platters and fun to unwrap from their little paper lanterns.
These unique berries grow on a soft stemmed bushy plant that is mainly grown as an annual. Given the right conditions it can grow to five feet in height! In milder climates cape gooseberry plants can survive from year to year but if you’d like to ensure you have plants, they’re easy to propagate.
Golden Raspberry ‘Fall Gold’
Though they’re not as sweet as red varieties, golden raspberries look great mixed with their more rosy cousins. Their novel colour is functional too — I’ve noticed that mine are less bothered by birds and guess that the yellow fruit looks unripe to them.
Raspberries are best grown from plants purchased either bare-root or potted up. The former can only be planted out in the dormant (winter) season but if you get one growing in a pot you can put it in the ground at any time of the year. The other way to get raspberries is from a friend – the plants can be invasive with their roots constantly exploring and branching out from their original spot. These runners will need to be removed anyway so gardener pals will likely be happy to give you some of them to establish your own patch.
Last on my list is the alien-like vegetable Kohlrabi. I remember having this the very first time on a trip to Germany – it had been roasted and served cut into chunks along with Sauerbraten and other dishes I can’t quite remember now. What I do remember was being pleasantly surprised at the sweet, juicy, cabbagey flavour. You can roast it like described or even eat it raw, sliced up like an apple.
Though it is a Brassica, growing Kohlrabi is easier than growing cabbage. It does attract the attention of birds and cabbage white butterflies but not to the extent as other cabbage family crops. When the swollen stem of the plant is about the size of a tennis ball it’s time to harvest them and serve them up in savoury dishes. Until then, they look like interesting architectural plants in the garden.
Unusual Edibles to grow in your Garden
This is just a small taster of the weird and wonderful edibles that you can grow yourself. Even some of the most mundane of vegetables come in surprising colours. If you’re interested in growing your own, make sure to include some edibles that you’ve not heard of or even eaten before. Or simply ones that look a bit crazy and add interest.
As a gardener you have the special opportunity to grow and eat veg that very few people have access to. Perhaps even the superfoods of the future — take advantage of that!