Weird & Wonderful Workshops

Workshops are done alittle differently here at WWEdibles.

This post will take readers through what to expect at these carefully curated events, with a link to register interest at the end of this post.

Background

2 years after WWEdibles’s founding in 2016, I started offering edible flower workshops upon request of my regular customers who largely came from culinary backgrounds. Their primary interest was in trialing the organically grown small-batch produce for use in their cooking or, to take back the idea of establishing edible flower / herb gardens in their own restaurants.

As such, since its inception, Weird & Wonderful Workshops have always been deeply rooted in the connection between plants, food and people.

Edible flower workshop set-up

With the edible flower workshops remaining at the core of what WWEdibles provides (being a classic workshop), it has also started to branch out into other niche areas such as; growing Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM), asian herb gardens, container gardening for fruiting asian edibles as well as kueh-making workshops.

What to expect – workshop topics and themes

The workshops are tailored to suit the realities of gardening in Singapore and WWEdibles only promotes the growing of plants which thrive in the heat and humidity here. They are also culturally relevant, being heavily influenced by Singapore’s history and diverse demographics.

Full credits to Singaporean Artist Lee Xin Li

Topics

As founder, I also wanted my life experiences and milestones to be reflected through the workshop topics offered. That’s seen through the focus on edible flowers and asian herbs / fruiting vegetables which form the core of what I love to grow / supply, as well as the TCM workshop which was inspired by the TCM garden that I set up at the SMU Grow Garden in 2017.

The hugely popular kueh-making workshop is an ode to my maternal grandmother and her colourful stories and experiences making and selling kuehs at Pulau Ubin (an offshoot island near Singapore). The recipes and techniques I use in the kueh workshops are from her, with some slight modifications (I don’t use Chinese porcelain bowls to measure the flour and use natural dyes for the kueh skins).

A small wooden hut in Pulau ubin, similar to the one lived in by my mother and her family in the 80ies

Hand-carved wooden kueh moulds from Penang, as well as the freshest ingredients are used in the kuehs (for example, the filling for the Ang Ku Kueh are made fresh from ground mung beans and pressed coconut milk / sweet potato is used in the kueh skins). This is so that participants can experience the original taste of these heritage treats, and take home with them our family’s time-honoured recipes to keep them alive.

Themes

In terms of overarching themes which influence the style and location of the workshops, WWEdibles is always looking to support other smaller independent businesses or talented individuals.

For example, wwedibles collaborated with Frank and ZhiXian of House of Plants (a greenhouse growing and supplying ornamental plants at Punggol) for a dedicated workshop space where we could host guests. Many of you who came for the workshops at House of Plants were in awe of the beautiful plants offered at the location, its rustic red-brick charm and the warmth of the couple offering drinks for guests to enjoy under the shade of passionfruit vines.

Inside House of Plants

The workshops have since moved to be conducted in a quaint black-and-white heritage house in Chip Bee Gardens, which is conveniently located near other famous restaurants and cafes at Holland Village. As the workshops are conducted in the early mornings at 9am, participants get to witness the soft morning light pass through the large fig tree outside the house and the cool morning breeze at the porch.

The workshop spaces are styled to encourage a sense of wellness and to provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of big-city living.

Ahead of the workshop, fertilisers and pesticides from local companies such as MOFPF, BioZapp (supplied by Simon Loh), Bioflora, etc are tested and the results shared with participants.

Another key feature of the workshops is the serving of light refreshments to guests, together with an option of cafe latte or artisanal tea. The refreshments are sourced from home-bakers or cooks who live near the workshop location and these treats are often made in small batches specially for the workshops.

The coffee beans are bought directly from local coffee roasters (such as Yahava or Nylon Coffee) and the tea leaves are also selected from environmentally conscious producers (such as Camellia Tea Bar).

Ultimately, the workshops are aimed at supporting Singapore’s growing community of creatives and makers. WWEdibles also believes in fair transparent pricing and does not take a commission from the bakes or food offered at the workshops.

If you would like to work with WWEdibles for future events, please drop gardenerd.sg@gmail.com an email.

Content

Finally, the workshops are all hands-on with a keen focus on learning-by-doing.

After registration, which is done through payment of the workshop fees, a follow-up email will be sent containing the workshop outline together with the details (location, date, time etc).

Briefly, in the edible flowers workshop, samples of edible flowers are given, together with a talk through the different kinds of edible flowers and a practical session of potting your own flowering plants for taking home.

A similar outline is followed for the asian herbs and fruiting edibles workshops which largely involve learning about different soil and nutrient sources, hands-on mixing of soil and pest management strategies. For the plant-focused workshops, participants should expect to bring home new plants to practice what they’ve learnt during the session.

All materials are provided for our plant-related workshops.

On the other hand, the kueh workshops are focused on the practical skills and techniques of making the various components of the kuehs. From understanding the type of coconut milk used (first press or second press?) or the variety of sweet potatoes (Indonesian honey or purple sweet potato or Japanese?), participants will gain some practical street-knowledge on the making of this traditional treat. An attractive feature of this workshop, is of course, that participants will get to take home steaming hot hand-made kuehs that smell of fragrant coconuts and banana leaf.

Our kueh workshops involve lots of effort and time to prepare from soaking the mung beans a day before to boiling them down and cutting / oiling the banana leafs for the kuehs.

Register

If you’d like to register for the upcoming workshops for the month of Feb – May 2021, please do so through this link: https://forms.gle/p9ByG56ebQL7J8ez8

Kindly note that in compliance with government regulations, workshops are strictly limited to a maximum of 7 pax.

Thank you!

J

Tree-picking: Jackfruits

There is an old jackfruit tree in my backyard which came with the house. It is about 2 and a half stories tall with large branches that encroach towards the kitchen, and into the 2nd level bathroom. Jackfruits take 5-6 years to bear fruit and are most productive after 15 years, given the height, girth of the tree and its fruiting abilities I suppose the one in my yard is at least 30 years old.

Since the history of my estate goes back at least 50 years this tree must’ve been planted by its early homeowners. Another interesting fact is that the Singapore Land Authority / Nparks owns all the large trees within the estate (even those within our private premises/gardens). This being the case, we cannot cut down or trim the trees without their permission. The jackfruit tree thus stands as an (almost) untouched relic, lording over the inhabitants of the home.

Wolf in sheep’s clothes?

The keen eyed reader may have noticed something suspicious by now. What I’ve called a “jackfruit” doesn’t look entirely like one. For those who frequent the wet markets, you may have come across a fruit, similar to jackfruit, called the cempedak. Alittle more about this fruit (from the National Library’s webpage):

Cempedak (Artocarpus integer), also spelt “chempedak”, is a tropical fruit from the Moraceae family. It can be found in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. Cempedak is similar to the jackfruit in appearance as well as in the way the fruit is used.  The cultivated species was believed to have come from bangkong, a wild variety of cempedak”“.

More on the (supposed “wild”) bangkong and cempedak:

The bangkong fruit is harvested only for its seeds while the fleshy part (bland testing) is not eaten. It is an important part of the Orang Asli diet, especially when they go hunting for days in the forest. It also provides emergency food rations for rural villages. Wild crop relatives like bangkong are also really important as a genetic resource for plant breeders.

The lack of aroma and taste in the bangkong fruit led Corner to hypothesise that cempedak was domesticated from bangkong. However, another tropical botanist, Richard B. Primack, thought differently. He had found cempedak growing in the most remote forests of Sarawak, a Malaysian state on Borneo Island. From this he surmised that cempedak and bangkong originated separately from each other.”

My experience with ripe cempedak is that it has incredibly sweet, custardy flesh that taste akin to jackfruit but with a honey-like heaviness. It also has notes of durian, custard apple and pineapple.

The reason why I (and my friend Chunwai) suspected that the tree had cempadak genes was because of its small long, oblong shape with a “waist” in the middle of the fruit. The spikes on the fruit’s outer skin are also dull and not as sharp as those traditionally found on jackfruits.

Cross-breeding of plants within the Moraceae family (consisting of amongst others – jackfruit, breadfruit, cempedak and bangkong) is extremely common and I am convinced this “jackfruit” is in fact a jackfruit-cempedak hybrid.

But for the purposes of this article and simplicity, we will just refer to this plant as a jackfruit.

When are jackfruits ripe?

Few things to look out for:

  • Seasons – jackfruit harvest season is September to January
  • Smell – tree ripened fruits give off a strong sweet smell
  • Sight – the fruits on our tree turn slightly greenish-yellow when ripe and have black/brown “spots” on the skin, the peduncle (the stem of the fruit connecting it to the tree branch will usually turn fully brown)
  • Touch – the fruit is slightly soft to the touch and will “give” when pressed (as opposed to being firm and hard)

A lesson I’ve learnt with the jackfruit tree in the backyard is not to judge a fruit by its size, smaller fruits can also be ripe if they meet the above-mentioned requirements.

How to harvest jackfruits?

To harvest a ripe jackfruit, you will need an oiled knife and (if the fruit is high in the canopy) a long pole. The oil prevents the white fruit sap from sticking to the knife and allows for easy cutting.

Be very careful when harvesting jackfruits as they are heavy (weighing anywhere between 3kg to 20kg) and can leave you with a serious injury if it falls on you. This was the case with our roof which has dents / holes in them due to the falling fruits.

Here are some lovely pictures taken by my friend Kalya of our harvesting:

Once you have your jackfruit, start by cutting it into two halves again with an oiled knife. If your “jackfruit” is a cempadek hybrid like mine, then oil your hands and dig into the fruit’s rags (which are the stringy bits between the flesh) and pull out the fleshy fruit pods, cutting into the fruit where necessary. I found it useful to cut away the white middle “core” of the jackfruit before pulling out the pods.

How to eat jackfruit?

Jackfruit flesh, seeds and rags are edible, for extremely young jackfruits just peel off the skin with a knife and the whole fruit can be boiled as a starch. The sweet flesh can be added into curries, salads, or desserts and the seeds can be toasted or boiled. They taste like macadamia nuts.

*I would like to thank my wonderful neighbours for lending me their clothing pole to poke down some jackfruits. Hopefully as the final fruits of 2020 ripen, we will have enough to share them (if the squirrels don’t get to them first).

Best,

J.

Balcony herb garden

Happy new year friends!

Today I’m going to share about my balcony garden set-up, for those who are also growing in small spaces – this one is for you.

As some of you may know, I moved into a house along Holland Village awhile ago. It has two patches of garden in the front/back yard and my room came with a street-view balcony.

Admittedly, since I was pre-occupied with the move and settling in proper, I didn’t do much with the balcony until the end of 2020. My intention was always to set up the area with some nice chairs and plants to have an al fresco dining experience – I’ve seen this done in countries like England and Europe where the weather is more forgiving. Thankfully, since I’ve only began establishing the garden in the later part of 2020, I’ve been spared much of the heat given that temperatures have dropped to 21 Degrees from Christmas and the way into the new year.

The estate that I’m currently in is a lot older than my previous one, consequently the street trees are much larger and play host to all sorts of animals. In my short time here, Ive seen flocks of Pied Imperial Pigeons, Asian Glossy Starlings, invasive tree frogs and even civet cats all witnessed from the comforts of my balcony. My housemate often jokes that its like National Geographic, and indeed I wanted to set up the balcony so that I could spend more time observing the happenings at my corner of the street.

In this regard, I do have to thank members of Nature Society and the good people of Instagram for identifying these animals for me.

Another thing which inspired the move to grow a tiny garden were the horrific prices of fresh herbs in the supermarkets near my house, costing anywhere between S$5.00 for a packet of fresh mint from Australia or S$3.00 for those from our neighbouring countries. The first week I moved in, I paid as much money for the herbs (mint, coriander, dill) as I did for the core ingredients (tomatoes, white onion, tortilla) in tacos! Admittedly herbs are more perishable and do not take well to transportation and fridge storage (explaining the high price), which is all the more why I felt compelled to grow them at home.

The Balcony

The balcony is a small 3 m by 1.5 m space which my landlords had covered with turf grass.

I bought landscape cover (S$10), fairy lights (S$15) and silver tassel (S$4) as decorative items for the reels, couldn’t find any pot hangers nearby for sale so I attempted to tie the pots to the reels using cotton and plastic string in what, perhaps was, one of the worst gardening decisions I’ve ever made. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Instead save yourself the trouble and make a visit to World Farm where you can get steel pot hangers for S$12 each.

After fixing the pot-hanger crisis, I went back to my original garden and carried with me, bags of soil, rectangular pots, smaller pots of odd sizes and most importantly, plant cuttings/seedlings. Laksa, mint, marigold, culantro, basil, chilli – all the essential ingredients to a hearty asian stew. Then, I scurried to the wet market and bought dozens of red shallots (for growing my own spring onion – because that would cost an obscene S$1.50 in the supermarket), gotu kola, organic rosemary and thyme for rooting.

The 2 weeks of acquiring the cuttings and seedlings, rooting them and potting them went by like a blur but it felt good getting my hands dirty again. If anything, my experience setting up the balcony garden has shown me that even caring for 20 pots of small herbaceous plants keeps the hobbyist interest alive.

The balcony gets plenty of strong morning / early afternoon sun from 7am to 1pm, this coupled with the persistent rains that have been sweeping past the island have resulted in quick foliage and root growth for the herbs. Unfortunately, the sun is not strong enough for the healthy growth of fruiting edibles such as pumpkins, gourds, eggplants or okras (which need strong afternoon sun) neither would it be an efficient use of space to grow those plants. With herbs, you can use almost every part of the plant, as opposed to fruiting edibles which you harvest only for the fruit.

A benefit of balcony gardening is that you can grow Mediterranean herbs like lavender, rosemary, thyme and oregano. In Singapore, these herbs have to be grown in extremely loose and sandy soil under the correct light conditions. Growing them in small pots (as I do) promotes the fast drainage of water from the soil and prevents root rot.

The pride of my garden are the organic thymes (pictured above) which I’ve grown through cuttings, I water them only once every 4 days and they have started to sprout new leaves. They are aesthetically pleasing plants with almost feathery-like olive green branches, extremely fuss-free and pleasant to keep as you can brush your hands past them and they will beam back at you with their warm earthy fragrance. Their counter-parts, the rosemaries, on the other hand are known to incite fear in most tropical gardeners, and for that reason I personally find them less approachable albeit misunderstood.

As an aside, I’ve somehow found myself with more rosemary than I need for the year (very typical of me), and as such, I’ve offered them for sale on site at $8 per pot, orders can be put through Facebook or Instagram (linked to this blog).

3 weeks after the first pot was installed in my garden, things are starting to come together (picture taken before Christmas 2020):

(Pictures taken today, 9 January 2020):

Above is the view from my room.

If you’re wondering what those reddish pink bulbs are (at right-bottom), they are Hao cai tao (red carrot tops). They are grown during Chinese New Year for good luck . “cai tao” which means radish top, sounds similar to the Chinese term for a lucky charm.

Whilst the plants are growing relatively well, I know that it is not at its best yet. New gardens always take a certain amount of time to fully regulate and establish themselves. At the start, you can expect slow growth and plant death because the soil has not been built up. As soil health improves and the plants get used to your space, you may subsequently experience a quick exponential growth spurts.

Balcony gardens are also an effective way of creating a closed loop food system, to build your soil you could compost food waste from your kitchen and use that to fertilise your plants. My partner and I recently purchased a coffee machine and have been trialing it, needless-to-say, much of the “badly” frothed milk and used coffee grounds have gone into the pots. For apartment gardening, you may also consider bokashi composting, although I have not tried it myself.

So far, we have harvested culantro, ghost peppers, spring onions, thyme and mints from the humble balcony space. Below is a picture of herb infused water (pineapple mints and thyme):

Well, that concludes the setting-up of the balcony garden with more updates to come! Thank you for tuning in.

Best,

J.

Growing Ken’s Special Pumpkin in Singapore

Here’s another one from the Garden Journal: Ken’s Special Pumpkin. This is the most common type of pumpkin grown in Singapore and also termed ‘Japanese pumpkin’. I recall seeing dozens of these being sold at Spectra Primary School’s farmer’s market last year and wanted to grow it ever since. Its a highly ornamental ribbed-skinned pumpkin which tastes great roasted with some sea salt and pepper.

I bought the seeds off a florist at block 453 Ang Mo Kio at Chong Boon Market, the stall vendor owns a small plot at Lim Chu Kang (‘LCK’) and always sells bags of freshly picked young four-winged beans or Chinese traditional medicine (weeds mostly). We became friends after she caught me snooping around the bags of herbs and asked if I knew what they were – at that point I had just set up the SMU TCM Herb section and replied with their names. She was shocked – could a lowly millennial really know the wisdom of Lao Tzu.. I convinced her by saying the only thing aunties get assured by: “aiyah aunty… my ah ma teach me one”.

Nowadays when I walk past she’d be sure to say “girl today have wild bitter gourd” or “Si Fang Dou lai le (four winged bean is here already)” – she knows that I’m her most loyal customer and will buy anything she throws at me from the LCK plot. Recently she started to sell seeds too, from a brand called “Go Organic”. This is the same brand I saw being sold at Gardener’s Day Out, so I bought one pack of pumpkin seeds to try out.

HOW TO GROW KEN’S SPECIAL PUMPKIN

First, plant the seeds 2cm deep into the soil and at least 15 cm apart. I grew two vines in one big styrofoam box. I recorded planting my seeds sometime late November 2019.

Relying on whats recorded in my book:

The vine started to reach across out of the styrofoam box, into the vegepod and it started to sink its roots into the empty patches of soil. Usually these roots would emerge from a node under a leaf before diving into the soil.

(Following from sowing on November 2019) By 21 December 2019, the vine had its first buds of male flowers. Typically the flowers form around the same height as the leaf stalks. The leaves tend to adjust themselves to be sun-facing but as a result they are susceptible to catching rain drops (the leaves are also furry resulting in trapping of moisture) causing powdery mildew (fungus) to form. For my vine, the risk of mildew forming was even greater since I was growing the pumpkin as ground-cover for my Thai solider beans which covered the upper canopy and caused the growing site to be very humid and shady. I mitigated this by only watering onto the soil avoiding the leaves, and by cutting away any yellowing or weak leaves which tend to foster the evil mildew. Proper fertilisation is needed to prevent fungal attacks – high P / K.

NOTE: Pumpkins tend to form male flowers first, (approx one week) BEFORE producing female flowers, the reason for this is simple; the vine “trains” nearby bees to visit the male flowers regularly so that when the female flower appears the bees would already be in the habit of visiting the (male) flowers on the vine and would pollinate the females.

On 24 December 2019, the vine was 3.5 meters long and bore its first female flowers. There were two of them. But unfortunately, both decided that the vine was not ready to fruit, so they turned yellow and fell off after 3 days. The disappointment was immeasurable ( I told myself that I would be happy with just fried pumpkin flowers stuffed with cheese – *I wasn’t*).

Then came 12 January 2020, when I brought my friends Jie Hui and Hailin to the garden and we saw the first promising female bloom. Admittedly, by the time we spotted it, it was already pollinated by the bees. This was obvious from the exaggerated bulge of the ovary. But I did my due diligence: plucked off one male flower and positioned the fused pollen-covered anther (male parts) to touch the stigma (female part). I then left the male flower over the female flower and went away for the afternoon. The next morning, I removed the spent male flower and repeated the process with another fresh male flower. The point of this is to (1) ensure that the pollen touches the stigma and (2) to use the male flower as a shade to cover the stigma whilst pollination is happening so the pollen is not exposed to direct sunlight. This trick was taught to me by a farmer at Green Valley Farms who successfully grew 15kg winter melons, she didn’t provide any reasons for why she fused the two flowers together but this much I can guess.

By 16 January 2020, the ovary was swollen and the ridges started to form. I covered the fruit with shade netting and supported it on a metal pole that I hung above. I chose to grow the pumpkin aerially so that it wouldn’t rot on the moist soil or be vulnerable to pest attacks – seems like a good decision as the pumpkin was free from blemishes and developed an even colour throughout its skin (I notice that some pumpkins have slight discolouration at the spot where they were placed on the ground).

The netting allows sufficient air and sunlight through.

HOW TO HARVEST A KEN’S SPENCIAL PUMPKIN

On 5 February 2020, I harvested the pumpkin, there are a few ways to tell if a pumpkin is ripe:

  • gently tap on the pumpkin to see if it makes a hollow sound, if it does it should be ready for picking;
  • the outer skin should be covered in a white coating, the colours (green and white) should become duller (into olive and yellow respectively);
  • the stem connecting the pumpkin to the main vine should be brown and dry;
  • the skin should be very hard and difficult to pierce with your finger nail (don’t try this with supermarket pumpkins, people sure will scold you);
  • For ken’s special harvest it 1 month after confirmed pollination of the female flower;
  • Weighs usually between 1 – 3 kg (mine was 1.8kg, approx 50 inches circumference).

Leave the pumpkin to “cure” for 10 – 14 days after harvest this allows the pumpkin to develop more flavour and ripen up. The pumpkin turns orange after being cured.

Me: Clearly very chuffed with my pumpkin and thinking “who was I kidding I would have been devastated with just cheesy stuffed pumpkin flowers.

TASTING NOTES

The Ken’s Special taste little like sweet potato but with a firmer flesh, it is not particularly fibrous which is a good thing. My recommendation would be to cut it into thin slices and roast it in the oven with salt and pepper until browned. The sugars from the pumpkin will caramelise and release all of its umami flavours. The benefit of growing pumpkins is that they improve with time and storing pumpkins for a few months is an option if you have a bumper harvest – if not, Im sure your friends and family wouldn’t mind taking a few off you.

As always, I am trying a new variety of pumpkins in the garden this season – Thai Rai Kaw Tok Pumpkin which is flatter, speckled and more ribbed than the Ken’s Special. Will keep everyone updated on the process.

Till then – keep growing,

J.