Monday 29 January 2018

Crocus love ...

On Sunday morning the weather was mild and grey. Not a totally inspiring combo I admit, but we felt a collective urge to get outside and enjoy some fresh air, so we headed over to Ham House in Richmond. And there, in the gardens, I came upon a lovely chorus of crocus (if that's not the proper collective noun, it really ought to be). They stood cheerfully beneath the bare limbs of the trees spreading colour and the promise of spring through the flower beds.

I don't have many crocus growing in my own garden, but I've made a mental note to self to plant some for next year. They give such exotic bursts of colour in the drab winter garden.

Speckled on their petals were wonderful specks of saffron-coloured pollen. And, talking of saffron, do you see those wonderful stigma in the very centre of the flowers? When they are carefully hand-picked and dried, the stigma of the Crocus sativus make saffron, the world's most expensive spice - worth more, weight for weight, than gold.

Today most of the world's saffron is produced in Iran. It was exported to Spain in the tenth century by the Moors. By the late middle ages it had reached these shores, and was cultivated in Cornwall around the town of Bude. Perhaps some Spanish corms were traded for Cornish tin, or maybe an itinerant monk smuggled some back in a hollow staff for his physic garden. No one's quite sure, but with plague spreading through the world in the fourteenth century, saffron soon became wildly popular for its medicinal properties. A home-sourced supply was clearly needed for times of pestilence, and before long it was successfully farmed in England.

By the mid fourteenth century farmers were cultivating saffron crocus in Suffolk and Essex. Saffron Walden in Essex, which by then had become the centre of the saffron trade, took its name from the area's most successful cash crop.

If you're really interested in the history of this beautiful crop there's a great Radio 4 programme about it, which you can access here: Britain's Secret Saffron Story and, I can vouch for the recipe for Lime and Safron Kebabs that appears immediately after the podcast. Delish!

All the best for now,

Bonny x

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