How to grow caraway

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Grow-carawayEditor Jane Wrigglesworth grows her own caraway seeds for the kitchen.

Want to grow your own spices? Try caraway, with its delicious aniseed-like flavour. It’s not hard at all – and you can impress your friends when you tell them you grow your own spices.

Click here for homemade rye and caraway crackers

caraway-seedsCaraway is a biennial. In its first year the plant forms feathery fronds, similar to those of a carrot, which reach a height of around 20cm. In its second year, from spring to early summer, it produces 60-90cm high flower stalks, which bear umbels of white flowers. These eventually turn to seed heads, and from these you can harvest the fruit (or seeds). If you plant the seeds directly after harvesting them in early autumn, you can grow more plants – or simply use the seeds in the kitchen.

Planting

Caraway grows best in full sun or light shade, but you’ll get the best flavour in full sun. Choose a spot that has well-drained soil and a little compost dug in. Plants will tolerate light frost, but they are best planted in a sheltered spot. Large containers work well too – though bear in mind caraway has taproots, so the larger the container the better.

Sow seeds in a furrow and very lightly cover with soil. When about 10cm high, thin plants to about 15cm apart.

Water your plants regularly until they become established.

Harvesting seeds

To harvest the seeds, pick the seed heads when the seeds begin to turn brown, cutting the stems fairly long. Don’t leave them too long in the garden or you’ll lose the seeds to the wind. Tie a piece of muslin or a paper bag around the seed heads and hang the stems upside down for the seeds to complete their ripening process. When ready, the seeds will fall out. Sow some of these seeds directly in your garden, and place the rest on a fine mesh to dry for several days. Once thoroughly dry, store in an airtight container for use in the kitchen.

In the kitchen

The dried seeds are used whole or ground. They have a strong anise flavour with hints of fennel and mint – just like the seeds you buy in packets in the supermarket, but homegrown seeds will have a stronger flavour. They’re frequently used in rye bread, biscuits and cakes (I love them in homemade crackers), and they help to flavour cabbage and beetroot dishes, stews and sausages. In cakes, I enjoy the combination of caraway seed and cinnamon, or caraway seed and lemon peel. And if you’re into making your own cheeses, you can add a few of these aromatic seeds for a delicious twist.

Click here for homemade rye and caraway crackers

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