Warrigal Greens

I harvested the last spinach from the garden a few weeks ago and have been keeping a bag in the fridge. I finished it off last night in a little sauté with some garlic scapes. This went on some pasta with tomato sauce. Garlic scapes make everything taste better, but I think they’re especially good with spinach. We ate the first spinach this year in early April so we’ve had a pretty steady supply for almost three months. I’m pretty happy with that, but until we get some in the fall I really miss it. Frozen spinach doesn’t cut it and getting enough of the good fresh stuff is expensive.

The seasonality of good food helps to make it special; if you eat the cardboard supermarket strawberries all year the local harvest in June, though tastier, isn’t as much of a revelation.

This doesn’t stop me from looking to fill that spinach shaped hole in my appetite all summer.

Generally I rely on Swiss chard; it’s easy to grow, tasty, productive and nutritious. It doesn’t taste like spinach though so it doesn’t fill the void perfectly. This year I’m going to experiment with Tetragonia tetragonioides sometimes called New Zealand spinach. I like the name Warrigal greens which, at least according to Wikipedia, is an acceptable alternative.

Warrigal is an Australian Aboriginal word for “wild,” or as the online “Free Dictionary” puts it: “another word for brumby.” A brumby, if you didn’t know, is a feral horse that lives in Australia. As far as I can tell Australians try to find the most ridiculous alternative to any noun and go with that. A swimsuit can be called a cossie (for bathing costume) or budgie smugglers (I’m not absolutely sure what budgies are, but I think this supports my case).

My father told me that a billabong, as featured in “Waltzing Matilda,” was an alternative name for a house of ill-repute. This suggested that the jolly swagman of the song camped by a house of ill-repute to wait for his billy to boil. I couldn’t quite figure out how all this would rest in the shade of a coolibah tree or if boiling a billy was some sort of euphamism, but nevermind. I was disabused of this notion rather strenuously by an Australian friend. Luckily he was a friend.

Warrigal greens are drought tolerant and love the sun so should do really well in the summer. In their native New Zealand they grow in sandy soil, but apparently are pretty adaptable. The seeds are super weird looking because they aren’t really seeds. Instead the whole fruit is harvested and dried – it looks like a little devil’s head.

The plant has the distinction of being the only New Zealand native flora to become cultivated elsewhere as food. The spread of Warrigal can be attributed to Captain James Cook who happened upon it when circumnavigating New Zealand. His crew harvested the stuff and pickled it to help ward off scurvy. I get pretty desperate for leafy greens after only a few days of camping, but I imagine that even after a long sea voyage I might turn up my nose at pickled almost-spinach. I’m thinking salty mush.

I’ll think I’ll stick to sautéing it.

Caleb Rounds

Author: Caleb Rounds

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