Thanking the cranberry

Cultivating cranberries (Vaccinium spp) is pretty weird, involving as it does constructing beds by scraping off the topsoil and replacing it with sand, building dykes around them, and then flooding them at harvest time to collect the floating berries after threshing the vines. The crop is always in the news around this time of year because it is an important item on the menu of the Thanksgiving meal in the US, as a tangy accompaniment to roast turkey. Which is why the National Geographic website has posted this great video about the harvesting process.

Let them eat sorghum

The Prime Minister, no less, has told Tanzanian farmers to grow sorghum rather than maize, where appropriate, because maize “does not enhance their economic status”, according to a report in The Daily News. Mr Lowassa pushed millet and cowpeas too. He also expressed indignation at the way farmers were recklessly cutting down trees and allowing cattle to graze close to water sources.

Whazup with wasabi?

A visit to Suva’s only Japanese restaurant prompted some googling. First, there was the name of the place: Daikoku. Daiwhat? Turns out this is the name of the Japanese Buddhist god of wealth, farmers, agriculture, rice and the kitchen. Which would have been cool enough. But then I asked myself, what is this wasabi anyway? Sure, the Japanese version of horseradish. But the same as “normal” horseradish, or what? I’m ashamed to have to report that I simply didn’t know.

So, to summarize. The horseradish is Armoracia rusticana, in the Brassicaceae. It probably originated in western Asia. Cultivation for its pungent root goes back to antiquity. But the “Horseradish Capital of the World” is apparently Collinsville, Illinois, from a small region around which comes over one third of the United States’ production and/or 60% of the world’s supply depending on who you read. Which actually brings me to the serious point that I wasn’t able to get hold of global production statistics, and not for want of trying. FAOSTAT doesn’t have anything on horseradish, for example. Anyway, you can go to an International Horseradish Festival in Collinsville every May to find out more. Wasabi, on the other hand, is Wasabia japonica (there’s a couple of other species as well, though). Also in the Brassicaceae, but again I wasn’t able to find out if Wasabia and Armoracia are much related, though I doubt it. The pungent flavour in both cases — as generally in crucifers — is due to glucosinolates. Wasabia is native to Japan, where it has been cultivated for its rhizome since the 10th century. Traditionally, it is prepared using a sharkskin grater. The plant requires flowing water and a small number of districts in Japan specialize in its cultivation (e.g. the Izu peninsula), although it is also grown in other parts of the world. But there is imitation wasabi on the market which is apparently made of Western (let’s call it) horseradish, mustard and green colouring. Pass the sushi. And make mine the shark-grated stuff.

Dazzling urbanites

A great story about urban agriculture in – of all places – Los Angeles mentions corn, sunflowers, chayote, onions, tomatoes and alache, which I had to look up. But I would guess the diversity is staggering, at both species and variety levels. Imagine all those Latino families living the American dream asking their relatives back home for seeds…