There is something very satisfying about taking a seed from a store-bought food and nurturing a plant that you never otherwise would have been able to grow. Many fruits and vegetables are sold to us with seeds intact, and many spices are seeds themselves. My gardening propensities are constrained by a small space, so it isn’t as if I can grow a year’s supply of cumin for myself, but it can be fun to have a plant or two of this and that around the garden.
Last Christmas Cameron bought me a large package of Chinese spices and sauces, and among the items were some lovely, heavily-fragranced red peppers called “Facing Heaven” Chiles. This type is one particular cultivar of a larger group of medium-hot peppers grown in China, and they are used whole, usually heated with the oil, in a number of classic dishes for both flavor and color. The name comes from their habit of growing upright and pointing toward the sky.
After watching a documentary on both the dish and that military leader of legend, General Tso, I went through most of the bag of chiles trying just about every recipe I could find. Just for fun, I saved some seeds and planted them this spring. They sprouted, and I tucked the plants here and there in the flower beds, hoping for a little interesting color. They did not disappoint.
I have harvested a decent number of peppers so far and have found that they dry beautifully in my old dehydrator. I’ll tuck them in to a jar in the spice cabinet and maybe have another round of experimentation with General Tso’s Tofu. Little cubes of tofu “air-fried” in the convection toaster oven take on a sauce just beautifully.
If you want to grow out your groceries, there are a few issues to keep in mind. First, does the item in question have mature seeds that will grow? As an example, summer squash are typically sold with immature seeds while winter squash contain mature ones. Second, has the plant material been treated in some way that may destroy the viability of the seed? Fermentation or drying with high heat come to mind as destructive properties that will render the seeds inviable. Finally, is the cultivar of choice a hybrid, that will not come true in the garden, or is it an heirloom type that will grow something identical to what you purchased? The internet will be your friend when you are trying to decide on this one. But when it comes down to it, if you have the space, you can plant just about anything and see what happens. What have you got to lose? Happy Gardening!