$2,500 per kilo makes saffron the priciest spice. It is grown in Iran, Spain, Greece, India and Nelson. That’s right, there is nothing tricky about growing the worlds most expensive spice at home. The hard part is harvesting it. With around 300 flower stigma per gram that kilo is going to take you a while to pick.
The good news is that you don’t need a lot of it. In fact if you add too much saffron to a recipe it will taste bitter. Two single strands of saffron added to the cooking liquid is enough to flavour a whole leg of lamb. It imparts a lovely golden colour to food and a unique aroma and flavour I think of as sweet hay.
Saffron is a member of the crocus family. It is flowering this week in my garden which is a little earlier than normal. My saffron bed has been in for a couple of years now and each corm produces 3 or 4 flowers and each flower has 3 red stigma. It is these little red stigma that you want. Discard the yellow stamen.
I planted half a dozen corms in a small raised bed but a lot of our customers plant them in pots. Because they’re dormant for a good amount of the year, having a dedicated pot is a good way of not forgetting where you planted them and digging them out.
You’re also supposed to provide them with a good mulch but as you can see I’m favouring an oxalis ground cover for mine this year. They still poked through and produced a tidy little harvest. Saffron is propagated by division of the corms and you can dig them up when they’re dormant every 3 or 4 years to multiply your stock.
You plant the corms in mid-summer in rich, well-drained soil spaced 5-10cm apart and 15cm deep. A bit of horse manure makes a good addition. Keep the water up to the plants when the leaves appear and try and pick the flowers first thing in the morning just before they open.
The lovely heap of saffron in the photo at the top is from Scott who grows it commercially here in Nelson and also supplies us with corms each year to sell to you good people. If you’d like some click here and leave your email address to be notified when we get this seasons corms in stock.
Scott dries his crop on a low heat setting in a dehydrator for an hour or slightly longer if it’s humid – until they’re dry but not crispy, they should still have a bit of give in them. I’m not quite at dehydrator quantities yet so I dry mine on a sunny windowsill for a few days before storing in a glass jar. See the photo of his saffron bed right, a model of mulch and vigour.
My favourite recipe with Saffron is to infuse a couple of strands of saffron in a jug of chicken stock and then pour it over sliced waxy potatoes and bake them in the oven with cheese on top. The potato slices absorb the chicken stock and saffron flavour – it’s divine.
This year because they’ve flowered early in time for Easter I’m going to try and make Saffron Buns, a traditional Easter treat from Cornwall. Saffron is also essential for proper Spanish paella.
So PYO saffron and because you’re not paying $2500 a kilo, experiment and see how you like to cook with it.
Keep your roses – here is a bouquet a foodie girl could get excited about!