Gardening Magazine

Catching Dewdrops

By Gardenamateur

Whoever thinks we only grow vegetables in order to harvest and eat them is missing out on a lot of fun and pleasure. Sure, I eat the crops I grow, but in many cases I spend weeks just admiring them as plants well before their delicious grand finale in the kitchen. And this morning the Florence fennel was doing what it does best: catching dewdrops.

Catching dewdrops

It didn't rain last night, but the sky was clear and our little
digital thermometer said it was 5.9°C around sunrise, which
is very cool for Sydney. After breakfast I headed outside for
my regular 'lap' of the 7m x 9m Ponderosa I call Amateur Land,
and the fennel was caught in two halves. On the shady side,
pictured above, all the dewdrops turned the plant into a green
sparkly candelabra filled with crystals. On the sunny side,
pictured below, it too was green, but misty, fuzzy and sun-loving.

Catching dewdrops

Here's a flavor combo to try both in the kitchen
and outdoors. One green strappy leaf in front is
garlic, the pot in the middle is of freshly trimmed
thyme, and behind them is the florence fennel.

Catching dewdrops

The fennel bulbs are finally getting to a useful
size. When small their flavor is softer, much
more pleasing than the pungent over-muscled
whoppers so often sold in the shops.

I like the way fennel cooks and changes in a similar way that onions do: if cooked long enough both onions and fennel sweeten and caramelise, changing flavor entirely from their startling raw bite. Pammy likes to slice fennel finely and mix it with fine potato slices, olive oil, salt and pepper, then bake it slowly until it's like a gratin that can be scooped out with a big spoon. It's sweet and delicious, just right for these cooler months. I also like to see fennel as a bit like radish, as a salad vegie, using just a little bit very finely chopped or sliced and tossed into green salads, to add a bit of bite. Not too much, but just enough.

Here in the garden, the main growing tip with fennel is to start it off from seed, in autumn preferably (here in temperate Sydney), but depending on how warm or cold your climate, that sowing time might vary. But the one thing that won't vary is the need to sow it from seed. Fennel belongs to a big bunch of fuss-pot vegies and herbs (carrots, parsnips, parsley and chervil most notably) which do best from seed, hate being transplanted, and which perform erratically at best if planted as seedlings bought from a nursery. 

Aside from the flavor of fennel in the kitchen, the other great reason to grow it is to admire its beauty, and on mornings like this there are few prettier dewdrop catchers in the business.

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