I've asked Stew to cook us a Caucasian spinach omelette tonight.
Caucasian spinach is a common name for Hablitzia tamnoides, an extremely useful, shade-tolerant, climbing, edible plant that has been brought to the notice of the unusual-edible-eating public by Stephen Barstow, author of "Around the World in 80 Plants". (I've been feasting on this book ever since Stew gave it to me for Christmas - not that it is at all heavy going but there is a lot in there! I'll finish reading it and review it properly when I have - but it is excellent. Travel broadens the mind; letting Stephen take me around the world in eighty plants is both broadening and deepening my understanding of perennial vegetables.)
Hablitzia has been growing in our backyard for a few years now, climbing up a trellis to a height of about seven feet. At first I left it alone to grow in peace and then it started to grow a little strangely and didn't look so appetising. (I thought it might have a virus. I don't think this is common for Hablitzia - I've never heard anyone else mention any problems with it at all. But to be on the safe side I replanted with fresh stock this year and the new plants have been growing well so far.)
I have had a few leaves in salads and steamed a few too but I still don't feel very familiar with its taste. Stephen seems to favour the very young shoots as in the photo below - I've missed the moment for those but the leaves stay edible and mild in flavour all year.
So tonight we'll have these not quite so young shoots in our omelette.
I wasn't very sure of the best way to cook Hablitzia but I'd read that softening the shoots in oil worked well. Stew is cooking them here with some Babington leek.
Then he went on to do the usual omelettey thing.
The verdict? Well it was a lovely omelette but it was hard to really taste the individual flavour of the Hablitzia with the other ingredients. I'd thought it might be so I'd made a salad with some of the raw leaves along with other perennial salad leaves.
We picked out Hablitzia leaves and decided that whilst their flavour isn't very distinctive it is pleasant and mild. And this I think is one of Hablitzia's several virtues. Many other perennial vegetable leaves are on the bitter side but here is a plant which will give you plentiful mild shoots and leaves from very early in the year (Stephen has harvested shoots in the middle of winter in his garden in Norway and has a mature plant which produces some 250 shoots) and which will clad the walls even in a shady situation. I feel it earns its place in the perennial vegetable garden several times over and I'm sure we're going to be using a lot of it in the years to come.
N.B. I've just sold out of Hablitzia plants but have some young ones coming along. I'll list them here when they are ready.