East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food Blog


A few weeks ago I did a blog on the Sowing New Seeds project which enables people to grow ‘exotic’ crops that are not traditionally grown in the UK. Quite by chance, I recently met Sue Roberts, a student at Nottingham Trent University, who is actually involved in the project, and asked her if she would do a ‘guest blog’ about it. Here’s her account of growing callaloo:

Nobody had to force me to eat my greens, I have always loved them. Perhaps it is something to do with Popeye cartoons, getting strength from guzzling spinach from a tin or more likely the delicious home grown cabbage my Irish grandmother served us with Sunday dinner, the zing of brussels sprouts at Christmas and the crunchy lettuce we had for summer teas. This year I decided to try some new greens after attending Sally Cunningham’s lecture at the Nottingham Organic gardeners’ meeting in April and hearing about the Sowing New Seeds programme. Of the many plants being grown I was most interested in Callaloo, a celebrated member of the genus Amaranthus which also includes Laf Sag, Lalshank and Tangerio, and is grown all over the world. 

 We had been given callaloo by friends Win and Ronald who grow it as a traditional part of their diet, and we enjoyed it wilted with olive oil, lemon juice and a hint of garlic, delicious with steamed fish. When we asked them where they got their plants from it turned out to be the same St. Ann’s gardener, Don Howe, mentioned in Sally’s lecture. The Caribbean soup called Callaloo has it’s roots in Africa. Recipes vary from island to island and family to family and the soup is valued for it’s health giving properties and even reported to inspire love:

Calaloo, Strange Calaloo

Mysterious curious roux

Try as you might to avoid the hoodoo

Sooner or later we’re all in the stew.

(Jimmy Buffet, “Callaloo” from ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’)

It’s based on a mix of greens (principally callaloo) and other kinds of vegetables with ham and/or seafood added, and seasoned with garlic, spring onion, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper. 

Here’s our diary of growing callaloo so far:

May- We get seven callaloo plants from Win and Ronald, so strictly speaking we have not sown the seed but planted some seedlings. Hopefully though we will be collecting some of the shiny round seeds of the Amaranthus later in the year. They are also edible (after careful washing to remove their saponin content) being high in protein and gluten free. We send back pumpkin,fenugreek and coriander in exchange. We plant them in an open site in the south facing part of the raised bed in the back garden.

Callaloo is an attractive plant. Its leaves are slightly shiny and pointed with deeply creased veins, more like Busy Lizzie than spinach. The plants settle in well and put the beginnings of new leaves out before a week is up. I reward them with organic seaweed feed and feel smug.

June -Two weeks later new leaves are out, but despite the slug repelling cabbage collars I’m having trouble with something nibbling the outer leaves. The plants are netted so it’s not pigeons. The answer lies nearby. The winter Runder Schwarzer radish plants are now 3ft high due to the dry March and April weather and covered in flowers and tasty green peppery pods, half way between a green pepper and a radish. Very nice, but they have skipped the round black radish stage altogether. The flowers are loved by the bees and what is this? A large extended family of cabbage white caterpillars, natty in their green stripes, lying vertically along the plant stems sunbathing, after having helped themselves to some callaloo no doubt. I make it easy for the birds by picking the caterpillars off and putting them on a dish in the front garden. What? That’s not cruel, they’ve got a sporting chance and so has my callaloo…



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A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.