Tendrils: Broccoli spears


Hello, and welcome to Tendrils. We’re still firmly in the grip of a vegetable crisis here in the UK, although apparently calling it a crisis is ridiculous. On the one hand, we can agree with Lord Tebbit – there’s no need to cry crisis because there’s not enough Icebergs to go around. There are plenty of alternative vegetables.

I’ve also seen smug gardeners proclaiming there’s no shortage of homegrown veg in their house, since they’ve had the foresight to sow winter veg and/or the budget to erect a polytunnel. Growing your own is a way to buffer your household against future food insecurity, but unless you are happy to live off nothing but sprouts (nobody calls them that anymore of course, they’re microgreens now) for the next few weeks, it’s not an immediate solution.

And I’ve seen people shrilly claiming that we’re missing the point, which is that the current crisis is just the tip of the iceberg (ha!) when it comes to the climate crop chaos to come, and that we need to be dealing with the underlying problem of climate change while we still have something to eat.

They’re all right, of course, and growing my own is one of the ways in which I choose to both bolster my personal food security and reduce my contribution to climate change. But we need to educate shoppers as to why their favourite veg aren’t available right now, and what they can do to help. There are too many people who, probably as a result of reading the Daily Mail (which I’m thrilled has been recognised as an unreliable source by Wikipedia), think that cold weather in southern Europe must mean the world isn’t heating up after all.

Blight resistant Crimson Crush tomato collection


Moving on… you can find out what it’s like to be involved in a herbarium digitization project, in how to photograph a million dead plants without losing your mind. You’ll also discover why projects such as these are considered a worthwhile way for anyone to spend time (and money).

Wired explores the strange history of using organ-shaped plants to treat disease. It’s talking about the Doctrine of Signatures (DoS), a historical idea usually resolutely debunked as preposterous claptrap. But there’s a suggestion that – though it’s true that there’s no link between what a plant looks like and which diseases it cures – we’re missing the point about the DoS.

Smithsonian Magazine has been exploring why the date is so important to the Muslim world, and the variety of ways in which they are eaten.


A Gardener’s Table introduces us to Cooking-with-a-hyphen, a new initiative for food bloggers to show their support for diversity. Perhaps garden bloggers could do something similar? We could call it ‘Diversity in Spades’. We certainly have more in common with our fellow gardeners around the world than we do with people who don’t know one end of a plant from another, an idea I have explored in the past: Gardeners unite: Nepal earthquake appeal,Greens in Gaza.

Gardeners are already uniting to breed better oca varieties. Oca is a potentially useful staple crop, but so far hasn’t adapted well to UK growing conditions. Yields are poor, so it remains a novelty grown by people who enjoy growing novelties (like me). The Guild of Oca Breeders is a citizen breeding project, committed to breeding better varieties and offering them free to the world. You can sign up now if you’d like to be part of the effort. I don’t have the space to commit to plant breeding at the moment, so I’ve put my name down as a ‘Supporter’. I’ll be receiving a pack of new oca varieties that may crop better here than existing ones. But mostly it’s about supporting this important work.

If you think oca is unlikely to catch on (or even if you don’t), it’s fascinating to read Thinking About 17th c. Potatoes (And Eating Them), which examines the history of both sweet and white potatoes in Europe.

Women and men learned about potatoes through experimentation, books, and word-of-mouth. They exchanged potato recipes with friends. They shared potato cuttings with their neighbors. They read about potatoes and tried their hands at preparing them.

There’s nothing new under the Sun, my mum would say. I prefer to see it as evidence of our ongoing edible explorations, an insatiable curiosity that might just get us all out of this mess 😉

Tendrils will be back at (roughly) the same time next week. Doesn’t look like many of us are going to be blessed with good gardening weather in the meantime, but enjoy your weekend anyway!

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