My first post included buckwheat but did not provide an introduction to one of my totem plants, which I am cultivating on my balcony this year. Fagopyrum esculentum (syn. Fagopyrum sagittatum) originated in Nepal. It then spread east to China, where it is considered to be a yang-promoting food in traditional Chinese medicine that warms the body, and Japan, where it is used to make luck-bringing soba noodles.
The Mongols brought it with them to the European part of Russia, after which buckwheat became a staple in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish cuisine. Its range continued to expand westward. The Dutch planted it in their colonies in North America, where it became the flour of choice for pancakes, or flapjacks. I started making pancakes with buckwheat flour when I was in college, gobbling them down with maple syrup on many a weekend.
Buckwheat grows quickly, bearing fruit within three months. The stem starts out green and then turns red. A five-petalled flower yields a triangular achene resembling a beech nut, which when ground can be used for flour. The English word buckwheat comes from the Dutch word boecweite, literally beech wheat, and the standard German word Buchweizen has the same meaning. Before it can be used as a comestible, the achene must be hulled, after which it has the status of a groat. The dried hulls can be used to fill pillows.
The dried leaves contain rutin, which strengthens the capillaries, improving circulation and ameliorating varicose veins. Another active ingredient is trytophan, an amino acid which promotes sleep and reduces nervousness.
Besides being good for you, buckwheat is also good for the earth. As green manure, it delivers phosphorus to depleted soils, thriving in sandy and acidic soil. No fertilizer is necessary. In fact, buckwheat plants will not produce fruit if they are fertilized.
As a fan of buckwheat, I find myself in the company of the likes of Soren Kierkegaard, Mark Twain, and Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps it is no coincidence that I live in the buckwheat belt of Europe. Sterz, porridge made of buckwheat flour, is common on both sides of the Austrian-Slovene border in Styria (Steiermark/Štajerska). South in Slovenia there are buckwheat and cheese dumplings called štruklji. Not far away in South Tirol you can feast on pizzocheri. As summer continues to wane and winter approaches, there will be more recipes with buckwheat.
At the moment, however, fresh fruit is still abundant. Bilberry season continues, and honey is plentiful too. So it is time for…
Bilberry Buckwheat Honeycake
90 g (1/3 cup) honey
120 g (1 cup) flour
30 g (1/3 cup) ground almonds
1 ts baking powder
a pinch of salt
125 g melted butter
3 Tbs milk or cream
250 g (2 cups) bilberries or blueberries
In a large bowl, beat the honey and eggs together.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the honey-egg mixture. Pour in the butter and milk. Finally, add the bilberries.
Bake 30-40 minutes at 180°C (350°F).
Recommended reading: “A World of Buckwheat” in Goldstein, Darra. The Winter Vegetarian.