Archive for the ‘Buckwheat’ Category


What time is it?

Time to be thankful for a surprise gift of honey. The jar is 1/100 of the honey harvest of a hobby beekeeper whose hives are in the forest. Despite the loss of half of his colony over the colder than normal winter, his hives have bounced back and he has had a bumper crop of honey.

Time to wonder at the discovery of the kunstGarten. What a delight to have found a paradisal refuge within a city under permanent construction. It is no longer rose season so I couldn’t appreciate the full splendor of the 160 different varieties of roses lovingly cultivated in the garden, but it abounds with vegetables, fruits, and herbs, including my beloved rue. A place to stop and smell the myrtle, to wile away the hours in the library, which boasts a collection of around 4000 books on gardening and plants.

Time to be excited about the metamorphosis of blossoms into achenes on the buckwheat in my garden. It has been almost two months since I planted the seeds, and I had no idea what to expect. It looks like there will be a buckwheat harvest this year!

Time to reflect on the way this blog has developed over the past 10 weeks and 20 entries. Like gardening and cooking, writing is a creative process often motivated by a desire to experiment and to play with raw material, be it words or plants. My commitment to write twice a week has introduced a new rhythm into my life, one that I plan on keeping. Ideas continue to be fruitful and multiply, though time stubbornly remains finite and thereby a limiting factor. In the upcoming weeks, there will be some changes, including a much-needed revision of the About page and the addition of a library and other pages.

And finally…time to thank you, faithful reader: where would this blog be without you?


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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

3 eggs

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.

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It is the year 1542 in France. What costs more than cinnamon and saffron?

Rhubarb! At that time, it was imported to Europe overland from its area of origin near the Volga for medicinal use. Shakespeare refers to rhubarb’s therapeutic properties in Act V, scene iii, of Macbeth. Wishing to get rid of the enemy, Macbeth asks, “What rhubarb, senna, or what purgative drug/Would scour these English hence?” The word rhubarb is still used in the theater today, though not to repel the audience. Actors repeat it to simulate crowd noise. In the world of baseball, rhubarb means a fight.

When rhubarb appears at the market, I don’t feel like starting a fight. Instead, I am relieved – no more apple or pear concoctions for dessert, spring is here! After unpacking the first beautiful pink-green pastel stalks (or petioles, as the botanists say) from my market bag, I inevitably prepare a rhubarb compote, stewing chopped rhubarb in its own juices with a splash of rosewater until it softens. I mix in just enough honey to temper the tartness.

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) and buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) belong to the same botanical family, Polygonaceae. In the following recipe, they come together in layers. Buckwheat flour is mixed into the cake, while the rhubarb nestles on top, keeping a cautious distance from its pseudocereal cousin.

Rhubarb-Buckwheat Cake


500 g rhubarb (about 3 cups chopped)

250 g (2 cups) mixture of buckwheat and whole wheat flour (I split it 50-50)

50 g (4 Tbs) sugar

2 ts baking powder

½ ts salt

125 g (½ cup + 2 Tbs) butter

3 eggs

2 Tbs rosewater


Preheat the oven to 200°C (400 °F). Butter a 20 x 32 cm (9 X 13 inch) baking dish.

Chop the rhubarb into small pieces. Set aside.

Mix the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Use a fork (low-tech and conducive to meditation) or food processor (high-tech and conducive to uniformity) to cut in the butter.

In a small bowl, combine the eggs and rosewater. Add to the flour-butter mixture, stirring until the ingredients are combined in a thick batter.

Pour the batter into the baking dish, making sure it is even. Arrange the pieces of rhubarb on top of the batter.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve with lots of honey drizzled on top.

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