Grain Full: Bitter herb grows tall

November 26th, 2011
by Jo Law

The heat that accompanied the START OF SUMMER gave way to a much cooler and wetter pentad with a lowest monthly maximum to-date of 18.1ºC recorded on both November 23rd and 24th at Bellambi (AWS). Jumpers, coats, and blankets once again found their way back out of storage. This wet beginning of GRAIN FULL provided 101.2mm of rain over five days. Incessant rain always reminds me of a documentary I chanced upon late one night that featured life in the wettest place on earth. The village of Mawsynram in North-eastern India received an annual average of 11,872mm with a record rainfall of 26,000mm in 1985 (that’s 26 metres of rain!). In Going to Extremes,  the geographer, Nick Middleton, visited this very damp settlement. During the monsoon season, residents went about their business in the rain; they sat in their houses during heavy downpours; they played darts in light drizzle. What got them fired up most is the contestation with the neighbouring village, Cherrapunj, for the title of ‘The wettest town on earth’. This certainly puts the question of ‘will it ever stop raining?’ into perspective.

Still, the incessant rain has taken care of the garden’s thirst, watering the 2 dug-over beds and the 4 polysterene boxes Hollis and I planted. The growing season for leafy greens and lettuces is almost over as the summer heat has a habit of sending these to seed, so we planted mostly roquette or rocket (Eruca sativa), which is grown all year round. This bitter herb is now ready to be picked and is an ideal summer ingredient according to Chinese food therapy. Asides from ‘lean and light’, the bitterness of this salad green is a desired characteristic for summer dishes as bitter food is believed to rid the body of ‘damp heat’.

Out of all our tastes, bitter is the most sensitive; and the common theory is that this sensitivity serves as an evolutionary advantage as bitterness is often the trademark of toxicity in plants. It is interesting that some bitter foods have obtained a kind of ‘acquired taste’ status (perhaps, espresso, 80% cocoa dark chocolate, Guinness). And in many cuisines, the addition of bitterness in foods gives a dish a degree of complexity (like marmalade, bitter melon/ gourd, macha or powdered green tea), which has its own following. Hollis is having none of this: he picked up the little baby roquette leaf from his salmon udon salad and put it into my bowl.

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