I'm a little late to the game of getting my spring seed orders in (if you hurry there is still time) and as usual I am trying to grow things that I either can't find in the grocery store or that I think will surprise and excite visitors to my kids' farmers market stand. James Wong is providing excellent inspiration in my hunt.
James' first book was provocatively called 'Grow Your Own Drugs,' and in it he provides lots of recipes to use plants (that you can grow yourself) to relieve common ailments. His new book, called Homegrown Revolution, isn't out yet (it it will be out later this fall), but I noticed that his website has been recently updated with all sorts of new treasures — just in time for spring planting. James is a Brit, so there is a little translation that needs to go on, but it is worth the effort to hunt down the plants he suggests. All of his suggestions are lesser known and generally not available in the grocery store, but just as fun and nutritious to grow in our own gardens.
My favorites are the cucamelons or Mexican Sour Gherkins (Melothria scabra). After much searching, I discovered that here in the USA they go by 'mouse melons'. I ordered seed from Terroir Seeds in the USA. James suggests these cherry tomato sized cucumbers in salads and also pickled, but I am thinking that they will be wonderful as a cocktail garnish too.
I'm also quite excited about discovering what James calls Inca Berries (Physalis peruviana) — and what are often called ground cherries in the US. I had some of these in Italy a couple of years ago, where they were not only a beautiful garnish but a tasty treat as well. James has a recipe for Buttered Inca Berry and Pineapple Jam on his site that looks extraordinary (if only I could grow pineapple in Massachusetts!). I bought a similar variety (Physalis pruinosa) from Terroir as well (they call them Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry).
I am still on the hunt for Chilean Guava berries (known in New Zealand and Australia as 'Tazziberries'), but near as I can tell these would have to be a greenhouse plant for me (and not having a greenhouse....I have a little problem). But if you are in zone 9 or above you might see if you can find these. They were a favorite of Queen Victoria and are said to taste like a cross between "wild strawberries and pink guavas, with a hint of candy floss" (that's cotton candy to us Americans).
(Images: James Wong)