Did you know you could grow peanuts and hibiscus and okra in the Pacific Northwest? I like to think of it as zonal denial for the veggie patch. Last Summer my vegetable garden was more exciting and colorful than it's ever been, thanks to a fun test-growing project I got to participate in to see what Haitian plants might work in our climate. It's a project called Grow Haiti from Loghouse Plants and the brainchild of my creative plant-loving friend Myrtle Von Damitz who was looking for a way to support the people of Haiti. Proceeds from the sale of this plant collection will go to The Lambi Fund which supports sustainable agriculture and development in Haiti.
This has been so fun in so many ways--growing things you didn't know you could grow here, the craziness and extreme beauty of many of these plants, the terrific packaging (I'm a sucker for a pretty label), and the gateway the plants provide to this rich and beautiful culture. Plus, through this project, I created perhaps the most delicious meal that ever emerged from my kitchen (more info below!) and I'm so excited that I'll have the opportunity to grow the magic ingredient again.
This beautiful collection will be sold at Log House stockists--check their site to find your nearest nursery. And if you're in Portland and free this Sunday, April 26th from 12-2 please head on over to The Portland Nursery on Division for a fun launch event. I'll be there buying plants and would love to chat with you about growing peanuts!
On to the plants...I was provided with several plants that I'd never grown before and not all of them made it into the collection. The mirliton was beautiful and fun to grow. It was almost a Jack and the Beanstalk experience as I watched it engulf an arbor with its twining tendrils. It really is a beautiful plant with large, tropical leaves. It didn't fruit for me unfortunately so won't be included in the collection...
Mirlitons, twirlitons, just getting started with their magic tendrils!
My neighbor made me a special arbor for my mirliton growing experiment. Isn't it enchanting? Aren't good neighbors gold?
Other plants were very fruitful though! The peanuts, which I really didn't have much hope for, grew wonderfully and were SUCH A TRIP. Did you know that peanuts form underground? You thought potatoes were fun for kids to grow and harvest? Try peanuts! As the plant matures it sends these weird alien looking pegs into the soil and at harvest time you uproot the entire plant to find the roots teeming with peanuts. Perfect, beautiful peanuts! In the case of the Schronce’s Deep Black variety you had the added excitement of peanuts encased in a shiny, dark purple skin. Stunning.
See those purple tendril things? Those are the peanuts legs that go down into the soil and form those funny Charlie Chaplin shoes we call PEANUTS. Man, nature is a hoot.
Behold, the mighty peanut! Grown at my Grant Community Garden plot. I bet my neighbors had no idea what riches there were under the soil in my little plot. I didn't either!
I would have made George walk so I had room to harvest more peanuts but he didn't know how. And he was wearing white socks.
The Scotch Bonnet Peppers were another favorite of mine. Man are they beautiful AND prolific. Mine got stuck behind some towering tomato plants in a plot already hurting for sun and they still went bananas and kept producing into Fall.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers are sooo pretty. Look at them! Golden delicious.
I'm always amazed at how well peppers do in our climate and these Scotch Bonnet Peppers are one of the best producers I've met.
The hibiscus, Roselle (Flor de Jamaica), also did well and is a true stunner. If you've had the refreshing Jamaica from Mexico, it's like that, and the flowers are easy to dry and make tea of. The plants didn't get too large--about 2' but produced a nice amount of flowers. I would grow it just as an ornamental.
Tropicalissimo! Roselle is a true stunner in the garden patch.
And now, onto the recipe that I mentioned before. Griot is a typical Haitian pork dish that has an unusual cooking technique which seams almost counter-intuitive. It's really not hard to make but there are several steps and it's the kind of thing you need a lot of time to plan for. You marinade the meat, then slow-cook it, and THEN you fry/brown it. At first I thought this was so weird, but then I realized that this is the traditional technique for making Mexican carnitas, minus the marinade stage. The flavors are also quite similar (orange and pork) but SO much more intense and delicious. It will really knock your socks off and would be an amazing gift to make for a large group or party. Serve with black beans and rice and some Pikliz and you're in heaven.