One massive angle of the Lost and Hungry tour that we haven’t done enough of yet is making sure we get out of the restaurants and finding where food is sourced from. After asking the locals in the Miami area about where to find some farms, I found myself at Paradise Farms Organic… and it couldn’t have been more different to anywhere we’ve been on this tour so far!
Run by Gabriele for the past 15 years, it’s a farm that grows organic micro-cress, mushrooms, tropical fruits and edible flowers primarily for the restaurant trade… whilst also offering guests a tranquil B&B retreat.
Gabriele was kind enough to show me around the estate…
The first stop was the dark mushroom shed, a seriously hot and humid place, but perfect for the oyster mushrooms that were growing from individual grow sack barrels. Gabriele explained that they get old malts, straw and sugar cane mill from other farms and stables in the area who would otherwise be disposing of it. Instead, they transform it into the ideal growing culture for fungi. Even after that, Gabriele and her team use it to compost and spread across the rest of the farm. Like everything they grow… the mushrooms adhere to the practice of local, organic and sustainable.
We then strolled around the grounds and Gabriele stopped from time to time to harvest a flower, leaf or berry that was edible. Nothing was grown in rows or nurseries (except a few micro-cress) but instead grown wild where the terrain, soil and sun/shade suits them best.
Every flower I was given looked stunning and I can only imagine some of the creations chefs must be devising with them. But it’s not just the appearance, they all have very different flavour profiles too. In that sense they add to the dish in a number of ways, not just the looks!
Despite how fragile they were, some of them really packed a punch in taste, whilst others were more subtle. A few favourites included:
- Clitoria – a striking blue flower with mild floral and slightly citrus flavour. I used a few to decorate my Mango agua fresca.
- Anise Hyssop – a sweet aniseed green leaf that tasted almost of liquorice.
- White Ginger – a flower that looks just as beautiful in its pencil form even before it opens. The flavour and aroma is of ginger as your expect, but more like sweet stem ginger than root ginger.
- Sun Hemp – a bold and bright yellow flower that has a very unusual flavour… green beans, the last thing you’d expect from a plant with vibrant yellow petals. I imagine it would be great in salads or to top risottos.
- African Blue – a variety of basil that had almost a peppery bite to it as well as resembling Thai basil in flavour. It gets its name from the tinge on the underside of the leaf.
- Wild Petunia – a very mild subtle herbal flavour with slight sweetness, yet stunning purple colour and shape.
- Cranberry Hibiscus – a leaf with a deep maroon colour, it has an almost sour taste, not unlike cranberries.
Even in the fierce sunshine the entire place felt peaceful and serene. Everything was so carefully thought out, right down to the garden design that used Fibonacci numbers in its geometry so that everything felt naturally balanced.
The one phrase Gabriele used that really struck a chord was “flowers are the highest expression of a plant’s energy” and for that reason when you see, smell and taste them you get something from a flower that you simply can’t get from a vegetable or fruit. I so rarely use flowers in recipes and cooking because they are fragile, delicate, have a short shelf-life plus are tricky and/or expensive to get hold of in the UK. But some are easy enough to grow in the right season… maybe something to consider when I get back home.
A big thank you to Gabriele for giving me quite the education and I urge anybody with a night spare in the Homestead area to spend it in one of the huts within the fruit groves. Accompanied with a tour like I had, and breakfast cooked with ingredients from the farm, you’ll feel completely at ease… miles away from the images of bright lights that Florida is so commonly associated with.