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.