By LEE REICH, Associated Press
As a gardener, I consider anything I would reach for in a food store to be fair game to try to grow at home. That accounts for the kumquat, avocado and bay laurel trees at my kitchen window.
So when I recently reached for a jar of curry powder at the store, I figured: Why not?
As it turns out, to grow curry I would have to grow more than one plant, because curry is a mix of a number of spices. Ingredients of a curry vary according to what food it accompanies, but most contain some coriander, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, fenugreek and hot pepper. Beyond these core ingredients, ginger, mustard seed and cinnamon might also be used.
INGREDIENTS PROBABLY ALREADY IN YOUR GARDEN
Some curry ingredients are straightforward to grow.
I already grow coriander; it’s the seed that makes cilantro, which goes to seed all too quickly anyway. Sown in spring, I could have seed in hand by early summer. And if you sow coriander/cilantro once, you’ll have it always as self-sown volunteers. I try to keep such volunteers confined to one corner of my garden and one corner of my greenhouse.
I also already grow mustard, but for its leaf. Left to grow, mustard will send up stalks of yellow flowers which will be followed by seeds.
For the curry I planned to make, you can choose from among three kinds of mustard to plant. Black mustard grows tallest, about 6 feet high, and produces the hottest seeds. White mustard grows about 2 feet high and bears the mildest seeds. Six-inch-high Chinese mustard is intermediate in hotness.
Mustard seed can be planted very early in the spring, with the plants thinned out according to their eventual size. The tender, young thinnings are good in salads mixed with lettuce, and the larger leaves make excellent cooked greens.
I also already grow peppers. Hot peppers, like mustards, can be chosen according to the amount of hotness desired in the finished curry, from searing hot (use Thai hot peppers) to mild (use Ancho peppers). The seeds need to be sown indoors in winter or early spring and then set out in the garden once the weather has reliably warmed.
SOME NOT SO COMMONLY GROWN INGREDIENTS
New ground will probably have to be explored for the rest of the curry ingredients. I have never grown cumin or fenugreek, but both are easy-to-grow annuals sown out in the garden once the soil has warmed in spring. No need to grow fenugreek only for curry. This member of the bean family, growing about 2 feet high and bearing yellow flowers, bears seeds that have the flavor, but not the sweetness, of maple syrup.
The final four ingredients — turmeric, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon — would be more of a challenge to pick outside most kitchen doors. The first three are in the ginger family, which is interesting but does not make growing any of them in colder regions any easier.
Turmeric is used for its yellowish color, which could also be obtained from a plant called wild turmeric, or goldenseal, which grows wild over much of the country. The dried, ground roots are what is used.
Ginger is easy to grow in a pot, but also could be obtained from a wild plant, appropriately called wild ginger. Here again, the dried roots are the parts used.
Cardamom is a tropical, perennial herb like ginger, so could, theoretically, be grown either in a pot or outdoors in the garden in summer.
I believe I’ll omit cinnamon from my home-grown curry. This spice comes from the inner bark of a tropical tree, so would be a challenge to grow outside of the tropics.
Even without the cinnamon, all this does seem like a lot of trouble for curry. Two simpler possibilities exist: the so-called curry plant (Helichrysum italicum), a woolly, yellow-flowered Mediterranean perennial, and curry-scented geranium. Both could be overwintered in pots indoors and grown outdoors in the summer. You can’t really use either to make a curry sauce, but they could be used just for their curry aroma or to add a bit of curry flavor to a sandwich spread.
By LEE REICH, Associated Press