So you grow tomatoes and beans and parsley. now what about throwing some of the other herbs and spices into the garden bed too. Caraway has a lovely rich feathery foliage and grows in full sun...
and pretty much looks after itself given good soil and normal watering conditions. It will throw up long flowering stems upon which lacy umbels of white flowers will grow and from them ensue the caraway seed. When the seed heads are good and ripe and starting to dry I pick the stems and place them upside down in a carefully marked (and misspelt ) brown paper bag and hang it out of the way somewhere dry so they can keep ripening and become brittle.
Many of the seeds will naturally fall into the bottom of the bag and others may need to be gently encouraged by rolling through finger tips. Repeated winnowing (tossing and blowing across the chaff) will result in a modest harvest.
Store them in a labelled glass jar in your store cupboard.
They taste and smell quite exotic and although many describe it akin to anise I think it would be fairer to say the flavour is more like a cousin of anise, very subtle with cumin like notes too. Caraway is part of the Apiaceae family: carrot, parsley, cumin, dill, fennel, Queen Anne's Lace, coriander, anise..thus you can see the relationships of foliage, flowers, smell and taste.
So why bother growing caraway?
Well for one thing, like anything you grow yourself, you know it's chemical free and where it comes from. It is a lot more potent than the aged specimen you buy in the spice shops here and it makes for a good companion plant masking the scent of other crops. It is relatively small in growing habit and very attractive. Bees seem to like it too. Caraway seeds are commonly used in bread baking and cakes and they particularly enliven cabbage dishes and dress carrots and other root vegetables nicely. You won't believe how they transform simple lightly steamed cabbage just by tossing a teas through and the fragrant steam that rises is eyelash flutteringly yum. I think they go particularly well in a Cheese and Caraway Scone, lovely with butter and an afternoon cup of tea.
One of my favourite recipes is this very vanillary/custardy Caraway Seed Cake and I've been making this since I was 13 yrs old from my old school cookery book. I've also converted it to a Thermomix version as well. For both versions, pre-heat oven to 180C and grease and line a loaf tin about 14cm x 21cm.
Caraway Seed Cake
1 cup of castor sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups self raising flour
1/4 cup of custard powder
2 tabs caraway seeds (less if they are fresh and home grown!)
Beat butter, sugar, eggs, milk, flour and custard powder with an electric mixer till combined and then beat on medium for 3 mins until the mix is changed in colour. Stir in the caraway seeds and bake in a mod-slow (150-180C) oven for an hour until a skewer comes out cleanly. Stand for 5 mins before turning out onto a cooling rack.
Process 250g of sugar to castor sugar by blending for 3sec on speed 9.
Add 120g butter
210g self raising flour
40g custard powder
process for 30-40 sec on speed 6.
Add 2 tabs caraway seeds (less if potent and fresh home grown)
and mix on reverse speed 4 for 3 secs to combine.
Bake in a mod to slow oven (150-180C) for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Stand for 5 mins before turning out onto a cooling rack.