Friday, October 12, 2012

The Gazpacho of La Mancha

Species name: Silene vulgaris (synonym is S. cucubalus)

Common name: bladder campion

Location: Ontario

The bladder campion, a member of the pink family (or carnation family or Carophyllaceae), is native to Europe but was transported to North America sometime around the time of the great European explorers. It is often eaten in Europe (the leaves are apparently quite nutritious; I've never tried them myself) and in areas of eastern Asia. In Europe it seems to be declining in numbers (but still not quite reaching the status of "uncommon"), while in North America it's everywhere you look.

The "bladder" of the flower is made up of fused bracts that surround the developing flower, then grow outward with the flower itself. As the flower is pollinated and the petals are shed, the bladder acts as protection for the developing seed, but can also house and protect insect larvae which feed on the seeds. The same mechanism that has evolved to protect the seeds is being exploited by insects who prey on them.

The most famous dish made from campion leaves is called "gazpachos viudos," or widow gazpacho. It is a dish traditionally made by the poorest people in La Mancha in Spain, since it contains no meat. If you'd like to try to make it, apparently THIS recipe is quite good. You can run the page through Google Translate, then search the site for gazpacho cake (or you could bake tortillas in the oven and split them into pieces). Let me know in the comments how it goes if you try the recipe!