A new crop at the Market Garden
This season (although it really started last season), we’re experimenting with growing saffron at the Market Garden.
Saffron is a spice. It is one of the most expensive food products in the world, because the harvesting process is so labor intensive.
The bright red-orange threads that people purchase are actually the stigmas (female portion) of the saffron crocus flowers. Each flower only has three stigmas, so about 150 flowers are needed to produce one gram of saffron.
The “seed” of the idea for our project was planted by Elias, a seasonal employee last year. Elias’ father, Paul Wieczoreck, is a horticulturist, and he gave us some saffron bulbs last fall. We planted them then, and got a few blossoms in November, but because that was our first planting, we didn’t do any harvesting.
The saffron crocus has an interesting life cycle (which is why it’s harvested in the fall). In late winter or early spring, leaves emerge from the bulb, but there’s no flower. Then, once temperatures heat up, the bulb actually goes dormant and the leaves die back. New leaves form in September when the temperature cools. Then the saffron crocus blooms in the fall and is harvested.
The best time to harvest stigmas is in mid-morning, on a sunny fall day, when the flowers are fully open. We plan to harvest the stigmas with our fingers – or maybe tweezers. Then we will put them in a warm place to dry. (We have to research and experiment with all this when the time comes.)
It is always exciting to try growing new plants at our organic Market Garden. It allows us to experiment with and display the wonderful variety of foods that can be grown in Vermont.
If we’re successful in growing, harvesting, and drying the saffron, we’ll send it to Chef Jim at the Inn restaurant. He tells us that saffron is absolutely essential for paella, is great to incorporate into fresh pasta (it gives the pasta a magnificent color and interesting flavor), and goes well in vinaigrettes, especially in summer when the Inn tries to incorporate a lot of fresh flowers into the salads.
We’ll keep you updated on “Project Saffron!”
Here are a few sources we’ve found helpful: