I love a good surprise and it's beyond me how I forgot about these, but being so busy as of late I didn't notice the grassy green leaves of my bulbs until these popped out:
Oh yeah! The gem of my flower/herb garden, saffron! This is only my second year growing it and I keep forgetting that these guys are autumn blooming crocuses, rather than the common spring type I am used to seeing.
This plant/herb/flower should have been part of my "You Grow Girl- 7 things Meme" entry but I guess my brain had taken a bit of a hiatus. It's hard to remember the plants when they die so quickly! Then again, it's sad to forget that you own a plant that produces such a costly spice...
Naturally I don't have saffron plantation here, but I do grow enough that fills this tiny jar that originally contained saffron in it, found at a TJ Maxx (gotta love that store). I get enough saffron to make a couple to few dishes a year, and it's satisfying enough that way, though I really wish these guys would get around to making some babies! ;)
Minus a pinch, yep, that's my haul so far this year.
I experimented with planting by placing some in the south facing part of my house and another set in the herb garden more west(ish) facing. They were planted straight in the ground with some rocks/pebbles surrounding them to deter moles and the like as well to improve drainage as this Mediterranean plant likes things relatively dry especially in the summer.
I had 2 pots which I planted a few bulbs in each only to have them rot on me. I swear they had good drainage! I blame... myself, I probably overwatered them somehow. Either way, I just recall looking for them in the pot when the rest had bloomed only to find some sad papery husks. Sort of spooky actually.
When the saffron blooms and these red stigmas used as the spice trail out, I have a slight giddy moment imagining all the delicious food in store with it, but also I'm a little peeved because there is very little time available for good harvesting. You can't just wait around, you have to harvest right after they open or all your work is for naught because that highly aromatic scent will go away quickly or at least quicker than crocus flower begin to start looking very un-pretty, meaning very fast to a day.
Some great super easy and I personally think fantastic dishes to make with saffron (other than paella, which I still need to attempt) are a Moroccan chicken with sweet potatoes and couscous; and some some reason I can't find the recipe but it's a combination of crush tomato sauce, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, olive oil, crusty dry stale bread, fresh garlic and saffron all mixed together until it's like a thick bolognese sauce, except vegetarian. Serve that combo with pasta and you'll be in heaven especially if you are a fan of garlic!
Though saffron spice itself is relatively expensive, the bulbs are not too bad, about a dollar a bulb or little less. For the plant-i-tude, show of vibrant purple color, cute leaves and delicious food you can make from it, I think it's worth it!
Due to it being such a costly spice, buying it from un-qualified sources, (ok, like open air markets), is a complete caveat emptor. Adulterated saffron is common, with people using colored threads to other flower petals/stigmas as fillers. Also, if you see something called "poor man's saffron," stay away and just go get yourself some marigolds and use the flower petals, because that's what "poor man's saffron" is.
Note too, other than the saffron crocuses, it is highly suggested that you don't nosh on any other varieties because it is well known that many crocuses are poisonous. Saffron has been cultivated and breed into this current state for civilizations to produce these specific stigmas. There's no real good substitution for the real thing and why not be certain you are getting the purest, freshest thing straight from your yard?
Here are a few links as to where you can purchase saffron crocus bulbs and nifty information especially on the wikipedia page about mini-wars that occurred over saffron!
Did I mention I will totally name my first born girl Saffron? (For those Firefly fans out there, don't laugh)