Fennel as high as an elephant’s eye

Last summer I foolishly introduced a nice pair of Saanen wethers to the deliciousness of fennel in its permaculture site. That did it for harvesting the fronds that year, though they grew back enough to give me a small yield of seeds–which while still green are like little sweetish licorice-flavored candies. Nicer-tasting than licorice, actually.

I use the fronds, mostly, don’t harvest the bulbs as a vegetable. The lacy sprigs, akin to dill in looks, are delicious in spaghetti sauce–subtler, more “suave” than the seeds.

But mainly, I love to preserve them for use in bouillabaisse–French fisherman’s soup. Sounds fancy, and it is–though in the original, it’s the fast-and-dirty dish the fisherman’s (or fishmonger’s) wife would make out of unsold catch.

I hate broiled trout served amandine, and same for bouillabaisse fast and dirty … it makes no sense to me to mix bits you’d eat with the ones (fish bones) that you’d prefer to pick out.

In the case of bouillabaisse, that means best to throw in chunks of filleted fish, the better then to enjoy them in spoonfuls that include bits of sliced leek, fresh parsley and so on. In the redolent broth

Whether for myself or as I have sometimes marketed it under my food products wholesale business, I sometimes make up a batch of fennel pesto, or what I call “Bouilla-Base” (TM)–a pre-made seasoning base of all the Provencal ingredients that go into the dish, including good olive oil, fresh grated orange peel, chopped garlic, black pepper … and precious saffron.

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I freeze that product in little zipper snack bags or market it in 2 or 4 ounce jelly jars, also frozen. Then you just thaw it in a pot along with more olive oil, fresh tomatoes and leeks, add fish broth and white wine, bring to a boil, add the fish chunks, cook till done and serve with aioli stirred in and croutes floated on top.

But I digress.

It’s barely true summer yet, but my handful of fennel plants have been beckoning me at increasing heights–the tallest about 8 feet and already going to seed. Which is a good thing. But I’ve been dragging my feet, due to high heat, the humidity, and other, more urgent projects.

So, on this pleasant respite of a mid-70s day, I went out and started trimming off the lusher fronds. First thing, I encountered a brightly multicolored caterpillar that had been chomping along one frond, doing so little damage amid the abundance that I considered him entirely welcome to it. (Except, I removed him, frond and all, to feed him in captivity and see if I can observe it forming a chrysalis. Research showed it’s a black swallowtail butterfly larva, which have a taste for herbs of many kinds.)

Next up, before I managed to cut more than a dozen or so of the scores of fronds, wasps or hornets of some kind that must have a nest or hive near the plants were drawn to buzz around me in minor alarm and mild warning … I don’t freak out at such things, but I did freeze in place to not provoke them into stinging. Wasps or something like black yellow jackets nesting in a bag of charcoal on my porch a couple years ago stung me, and their virulent venom caused my whole forearm to swell up–an unaccustomed and unwelcome response. Just one sting two separate times; I don’t mean the whole nest attacked me.

So, I didn’t want a repeat of that. I did assay the fennel plants another time or two, attracting the little buzzers to me each time, freezing in place each time as I did … 20 or 30 seconds or more, then

they’d fly away without further ado.

Maybe at some other time of day, in a light rain, or later in the summer I can gather some more of these fragrant shoots. (I know there’s Queen Anne’s lace in the photo rivaling the fennel, but you can tell the diff, right?)

Adult black swallowtail butterfly photos by Stephanie Sanchez from her website http://butterflies.heuristron.net/butterflies/blackSwallowtail.html

 

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