Astonishingly, it seems that the teeniest little bit of summer has finally arrived in the UK! I mean, we have had two weekends in a row of reasonable weather (well, not raining, that is…) and I have finally had a chance to spend some time in my sadly neglected garden. I must say that despite the neglect, it’s looking pretty OK. The last of my profusion of poppies are still hanging on; the geraniums are blooming for all they’re worth and the alyssum is making clouds of sweet-smelling flowers. But most importantly, my favourite harbinger of summer has arrived: the nasturtiums.
I have loved nasturtiums ever since my mom introduced me to them as a child (although I knew them by their Afrikaans name of kappertjies then). They were easy to grow, fairly hard to kill and produced loads of flowers over a long period. Plus there was the added bonus that their leaves looked almost exactly like the lily pads I had seen in my illustrated Beatrix Potter books and with a drop of dew in their centre, I could almost imagine them featuring in her wonderful tales. I remember always being on the lookout for interesting colours: the ones with petals that shaded from red in the centre to yellow at the edges were my favourites and tended to grow lke weeds in Plett, on the slopes below the old Lookout hotel. I would always make sure to get some seeds to take home and try and grow them in our garden, to my mom’s amusement. When I arrived in the UK and saw nasturtium seeds for sale at the nursery, I immediately snapped them up and planted some – just having the plants in the garden made it feel a little more like home. And this year, to my surprise, I discovered two thriving nasturtium plants that had sown themselves in the little corner by the garden gate, where nothing grows except weeds. So you could say that I now have wild nasturtiums growing in my garden…
I certainly had never thought of eating them until I started reading more widely about food and discoverd that a) capers are in fact NOT pickled nasturtium seeds, as we had always been told as children!) and b) both the flowers and leaves are edible, with a pleasant peppery tang. They were brought to Europe in the 16th century from the jungles of Central America and in fact, their peppery tang is where nasturtiums for their name from: an amalgamation of the Latin word for nose (nasus) and twister (tortus). I have nibbled on them a few times since discovering their culinary possibilties and since they taste very much like rocket to me, I though they would be ideal in a salad. And although I know the flowers are edible too, it just seems too much of a pity to pick them when I so love seeing their cheerful orange faces when I look out of the window.
So you’ll have to make do with wild nasturtium leaf salad!
Cos lettuce, washed and torn
Cherry tomatoes, halved
2 sticks celery, sliced
5cm of a cucumber, thinly sliced
spring onions, chopped
a handful of fresh nasturtium leaves
1 Tbsp capers (optional)
Toss the salad ingredients together and dress with a lemony vinagrette dressing. Delicious with pizza.