Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Who needs fennel, anyway?

We've inherited a crazy-prolific herb garden in the house we're renting. It's so overgrown I've started having flashbacks to 'Nam whenever I wade in to fetch some rosemary.

The kids love it and often collect various leaves and crush them between their fingers to release the aromas. My oldest boy has even asked for butter and herb sandwiches for lunch, and goes out to pick his own herbs (I send him with a pocket knife and three days' supply of water).

The other day I realised a herb I'd thought was dill gone to seed was in fact a fennel plant. I've always wanted to try cooking fennel - apparently slowly pan-frying the root-bulb caramelises it into a state of awesomeness. That sounded like something else to add to my very long list of what tastes good on buttered baguette.

So I headed out there yesterday to dig up a bulb, but before I could I noticed something already snacking on our fennel.

This guy and about six of his mates. 

He looks like a stack of liquorice all-sorts, which is fitting given fennel's aniseed flavour. 

I spent a few minutes googling and learned two new things:

1. Fennel is a member of the carrot family, and 
2. These little guys are most likely Old World Swallowtail caterpillars.

The kids are hoping they'll catch them turning into butterflies. I'd like to see that myself. But I'm also pretty happy just looking at the caterpillars.  

That is one good lookin' bug. He could be a Cherri House quilt. 

Caramelised fennel on hot buttered baguette will just have to wait. Guess it's herb and butter sandwiches for me too.   

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Oh oh, you have to try this next summer, the kids will love it. Next time you're curious about a caterpillar, put it in a big jar with holes punched in the top (sharp side pointing OUT) or else covered with a bit of fabric held on with an elastic (for air exchange). Put in a stick with some horizontal branches to give it a place to make its cocoon (otherwise it will use the top of the jar and you won't see it as well). Above all, make sure that you include fresh leaves of the plant that you found it on. That's what it eats. If you found it on something inedible, you have to go online and find out what it eats. Otherwise, tragedy ensues. ("Oh, these look nice for a caterpillar to eat!" doesn't work.) Keep it inside where everyone can watch it. The caterpillar will eat and poop a lot for about a week (now you know where Eric Carle got the can clean the jar & replace the greenery as needed) and then it will be in its cocoon for about a week. The cocoon changes as it develops - keep an eye on it once it's getting close. Because then the awesome thing happens (hopefully not during school hours): the butterfly comes out in all its splendour. It won't want to fly away until its wings are dry, so there is plenty of time to enjoy it before the big adieu.

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