AgriCulture: Water Peppers! What’re Water Peppers?

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:Tomatoes of all varieties but in limited quantities. Sun Gold, Black Krim, Brandywine 
Greek globe basil, $3/bunch 
And of course, Wild Water Peppers
These are wild water peppers. Photo by Troy Spindler
Water Peppers! What’re Water Peppers?
Hey all, Troy again.
I always thought my background in ecology would be helpful for farm management. In fact, it’s the closest thing I have to a “qualification” for this job. I had never done any large mammal handling or intensive gardening before, and I certainly haven’t managed anything resembling a business. But I have devoted a lot of my time to thinking about biological systems. Nutrient cycles, succession, pests and parasites all come to mind when I think about the relationship between agriculture and ecology. While understanding these concepts helps us imagine how we want the farm to look and function in the future, we haven’t had too many chances to put this knowledge to the test yet. But that doesn’t mean our prior experience has been totally useless. In fact, we’re discovering some rather unexpected practical advantages to having backgrounds in ecological research. It’s even opening up new ways to earn money off the land with very little input – something we can all appreciate.Some of our best-selling items here at Turkana Farms have been low-maintenance, perennial “weeds” like mint, dill, lamb’s quarters, and shiso. Some of these grow so aggressively here, we have to beat them back to keep them shading and muscling out our other crops. I’m pleased to announce that thanks to Victoria’s plant-identifying genius, we’re adding a new one to the list for you all to try: Wild Water Pepper or Persicaria hydropiper. Wild Water Pepper is a water-loving plant with a pungent, spicy flavor. Victoria discovered it while she was weed-whacking around our pond. Apparently, as she got bombarded with tiny fragments of the plant, her skin started to burn and her eyes teared up (like when you put too much hot pepper in your chili… Looking at you, Morgan). She got a closer look and noticed a very close resemblance to the common plant smartweed (Persicaria hydropiperoides). She recalled from our ecology days a conversation with some co-workers about smartweed and its relatives, which they might have encountered in their plant diversity surveys. Someone must have mentioned water pepper and its unique flavor, because even though they never saw it in any of their study plots, somewhere deep in Victoria’s biblioteca of a mind, she filed away in a little filing cabinet a single manila folder with only one sheet of paper in it that had written on it, “spicy plant looks like smartweed.” A quick search online confirmed that the plant she was battling by the pond was indeed Persicaria hydropiper. And all of us, plus some friends who came by this week, can confirm that it is indeed a spicy plant!Eating the water pepper leaf on its own is an odd sensation, and it’s quite fun to observe a first-timer go through the experience. The flavor builds really slowly in your mouth, so a typical reaction starts out like this, “Hmm, I don’t taste anything.” Then, “Oh, yeah, it’s subtle, isn’t it?” Followed by, “Whoa! Not subtle!” Once it hits you, it surprises you, because it’s spicy like a pepper, but it doesn’t have the capsaicin molecule like most peppers do, so it hits a different part of the tongue than we’re accustomed to. And if you’re so tough that the leaf isn’t enough for you, you can try the flower buds, which are even sharper.Water pepper is not commonly used in many cuisines, but has been used as a garnish and in sauces in Japan for a long time. Nowadays, they typically use a cultivar with a milder flavor rather than the stronger wild version. There is even a Japanese proverb about the plant’s unique intensity. The proverb translates roughly to “Some insects gladly eat water pepper.” It means something akin to ‘to each their own.’ Because although nearly all creatures avoid the harshness of the water pepper, some insects still manage to enjoy it.I consider myself as brave as some insects, so I decided to flavor a batch of fresh summer pico de gallo with our own wild water pepper. Or maybe not quite that brave, because I started with a very small quantity and worked my way up to a palatable amount. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the result. I used shishito peppers instead of jalapenos, because they are not as spicy — I wanted the water pepper to pick up the slack. Here is my imprecise recipe: 
3-4 Large Tomatoes finely chopped (from our garden and from Hearty Roots farm down the road) 
2-3 handfuls of Shishito Peppers finely chopped (from Hearty Roots) 
1 Onion finely chopped (from Hearty Roots) 
2 Giant Scallions (from our garden) chopped 
Juice from 2-3 limes (from Otto’s Market) 
Salt to taste 
3-ish handfuls of Wild Water Pepper leaves? (roughly one bunch?) 
A few pinches of Wild Water Pepper flower buds? (I dunno guys, experiment!)It was fresh, tangy, and the water pepper gave it the extra zing I was after. I recommend it for your next summer barbecue. Or if you’re just enjoying some chips by yourself. And If you decide to get wild and experiment with it in any other dishes, I’d love to hear the results!It’s not often that we get to apply what we’ve learned as scientists to our regular lives, but it’s incredibly satisfying when we do. If we spark a new culinary sensation, I’d say Victoria really knocked it out of the park. I’ll be sure to let you know just as soon as my in-depth training in beetle anatomy pays off for the farm in some way. But in the meantime, we should all brush up on our plant ID!
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEKWild Water Peppers, $2/lb 
Tomatoes, limited quantities, $3/lb. 
Lots of Rainbow Chard – $3/bunch 
Cucumbers, $2/lb 
Mugwort, $1/bunch for infusions or tea 
Beets, $4/bunch (mixed bunches Chiogga, Detroit Red, Golden, or tell us your preference), 
Scallions, $2/bunch 
Kale $3/bunch two different varieties, deep blue green straight leaf and curly leaf 
Collards, $3/bunch 
Wax beans and haricots verts $2.50/lb (limited quantities) 
MINT: $.75 a bunch 
Greek globe basil, $3/basil 
DILL: sorry, between waves 
SHISO LEAVES green or red, $1.00 FOR 10EGGS: Production is now in overdrive. We can handle all your orders. $5/dozMEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezerGEESE: One remaining, about 8.5 lbs. $10/lb.TURKEYS: A few small ones left over and frozen $11/lb .GUINEA FOWL, We are sold out!ROASTING CHICKENS – We are sold out til FallLAMB: shoulder roasts at $10/lb, riblets $8/lb, small and larger leg roasts $14/lb, lamb stew $7/lb, shanks, $10/lbPORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs), Jowl (roughly 2 to 3 lbs each), $12/lb, 
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb 
baby back ribs $8/lb 
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb 
picnic or Boston butt roasts (roughly 2 lbs) $12/lb 
smoked bacon, $12/lb 
Kielbasa $8/lbDUCKS: SOLD OUT
FARM PICKUPS:Email us your order at, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.


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