I almost felt sorry we were relocating from Florida the minute Alma told me she was considering selling her homestead in the beautiful Acreage of West Palm Beach. Not that I was in a position to acquire an oversized piece of land with a 5,000-square-foot house on its premises on a variable salary of a part-time perfume sales clerk but my heart involuntarily sank at the thought of a new owner with unclear intentions bulldozing clear what took much time and work to plant and nurture to fertility.
Alma is the owner of a bountiful farm that is home to hundreds of plants, most of which—if not all—are edible. From fruit trees and vegetable patches to rare flowers and what is commonly considered weeds, there is not one that can’t be consumed in one way or another.
I could hardly keep up with Alma and her daughter Anna who were hopping from one species to the next blurting out their names and culinary uses faster that I could press the shutter-release button on my camera.
“This is Nopales cactus. The edible kind. It’s really good in salads. Crunchy, you know,” Alma picked a nice size pad and broke it in half. “Here, try.”
I carefully bit into the green bumpy flesh to find it very tender and mild-tasting, sort of like green beans or okra.
“This is ylang ylang. Have you heard of it? They use it in perfumery a lot. It also relieves stress and elevates mood. It has long been considered an aphrodisiac. Take a deep whiff,” said Alma and held out a cluster of tiny red and yellow flowers she collected in the palm of her hand.
I held my breath instead and politely buried my nose in the delicate petals.
No, thank you, I smell enough ylang ylang at work. And it’s not my favorite.
“Look at this now. What do you think this is?” Anna posed a question to me.
“A weed?” Kevin chimed in.
“Yeah. Most people pull it out. We eat it. It lends a nice peppery taste to a salad,” she explained.
I tried that too. Peppery indeed!
“Would you like to try some mulberries?” asked Anna as we approached a huge 30-foot deciduous tree that shielded us from the sun. “They are in season now. Here, try. They are so sweet. We mostly eat the fruit as it comes, but you can make jams, jellies, and wines. The leaves are edible too. You can eat them as a vegetable or brew into a healthy tea. Mulberry tea is considered a diuretic. It helps to flush fluids and toxins out of the body.”
“Can I make stuffed mulberry leaves?” I got sidetracked.
“Absolutely! Just like stuffed cabbage or grape leaves. You can also use them to raise silkworms. Now, that’s a fun project to do with your daughter,” Alma winked at me.
One summer, my parents raised a colony of silkworms as a side job. Now, that was not a lot of fun. First of all, it was my sister and I who had to go pick leaves to feed the hungry caterpillars every day. If not twice a day! And whereas climbing the trees and feasting on the berries—black, purple, white—was no doubt a nice perk, after a couple of days it started to feel like a major chore we had to wake up to every morning amidst our summer break. Second, we didn’t get to see the unsightly insects turn into beautiful butterflies. Our parents turned them in before the magic happened.
Those silkworms are a commitment indeed.
Definitely not! I’ll use my mulberry tree for anything but that.
I looked up at the large canopy of oversized heart-shaped leaves and tiny berries tucked in between and knew exactly what I’d use it for. I’d have my husband build a tree house for Nicole in its strong branches where she could host tea parties for her friends in the summertime, berries within reach . . . Stained frock, stained lips, stained fingers…
“They also make paper out of leaves. It is very fine and very expensive,” Alma brought me out of my daydreaming back to the tree. “We sell them, you know. You can order one online once you are settled in Reno.”
I love trees. I’d sure love to have one or two of my own. Why not a mulberry tree that has so many fantastic uses?
It took Alma and Anna about an hour to show us around. And the more they revealed about their lush edible jungle, the less enthusiastic I got about moving into the high desert climate of Nevada.
“Honey, do you think mangoes, bananas, crab apples, pomegranates, strawberries, pecans, limes, and mulberries can grow in Nevada?” I voiced my concern to Kevin on the way back home.
“Doubt it. But don’t worry, my love. Something’s gotta grow in Nevada!” he tried to sound cheerful but hardly convincing.
Ha! “Something” . . .
We also got a couple dozen fresh eggs for Easter there. Actually, they were the driving force behind the trip up to West Palm. Nicole picked a few that had just been laid, petted rabbits and baby chicks, and chased a couple of nosy ducks. Old-fashioned kind of fun I always try to cram in between candy-filled egg hunts.
Between coloring eggs for family and friends, baking, and cooking, we went through them pretty quickly. This year coloring eggs was as much fun for me as for Nikolasha since I extracted colors for us from natural ingredients. If you are interested in the dyes I used on the eggs featured in this post, please go here.
Making spring chick cake pops was the highlight of the holiday baking. They turned out pretty nice, didn’t they? They were a hit with the neighborhood kids.
They sure look like a lot of work but they are not. First of all, I made my batter out of the box; second, I used a cake pop machine not to sweat the rolling of 40+ balls or cringe over their not-so-picture-perfect round shape; and third, I let Nicole and some of her friends decorate the pops. Just some of the pops, to be honest.
Yeah, I cheated, but guess what. I had a good reason to: I had to pack up the house.
Recipe for Spring Chick Cake Pops, adapted from Cake Pops by Bakerella
1. 48 uncoated Basic Cake Balls (chilled), recipe follows
2. 48 ounces (3 pounds) yellow candy coating
3. 48 paper lollipop sticks
4. foam block
6. 48 orange rainbow chip sprinkles
7. 96 yellow rainbow chip sprinkles
8. 96 orange wildflower sprinkles
9. black edible-ink pen or black icing
1. Reserve cake balls (chilled and in the refrigerator). Melt candy coating in a microwave-safe plastic bowl, following instructions on package. When you are ready to dip, remove a few cake balls from the refrigerator at a time, keeping the rest chilled.
2. One a time, dip about ½ inch of the tip of a lollipop stick into the melted candy coating, and insert the stick straight onto a cake ball, pushing it no more than halfway through. Dip the cake pop into the melted coating; tap off excess coating.
3. Insert stick base into foam block. When the pops are dry, use a toothpick to dot a small amount of melted candy coating in position for the beak, and attach an orange rainbow chip sprinkle pointed-side out. Use the same technique to attach 2 yellow rainbow chip sprinkles for wings, pointed-side out, on either side of the cake pop and 2 orange wildflower sprinkles at the bottom for feet.
4. Draw eyes with a black edible-ink pen or pipe on with black icing, and let dry completely in the foam block.
Recipe for Basic Cake Balls
1. 18.25-ounce box cake mix
2. (16-ounce) container ready-made frosting
1. Bake the cake as directed on the box, using a 9×13-inch cake pan. Let cool completely. Crumble cooled cake into a mixing bowl. You should not see any large pieces of cake.
2. Add three-quarters of the container of frosting. Mix it into the cake, using the back of a large metal spoon, until thoroughly combined.
3. The mixture should be moist enough to roll into 1 ½-inch balls and still hold a round shape. After rolling the cake balls by hand, place them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.
4. Cover with plastic wrap; chill for several hours in the refrigerator, or place in the freezer for about 15 minutes. You want the balls to be firm but not frozen.
Makes 48 cake balls
1. If you have a cake pop machine, make the cake batter as directed on the box. Bake the cake pops according to the manufacturer’s instructions.