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A Taste Of The Caribbean In Your Own Backyard

The first flats ready for customers on the Grow Haiti project.
Log House Plants
The first flats ready for customers on the Grow Haiti project.

Spring planting season is coming early this year for a lot of home gardeners. And this year some Pacific Northwest nurseries are getting familiar with the flavors of the Caribbean.

Log House Plants, a wholesale nursery outside Cottage Grove, Oregon, is beginning this week to distribute 22 varieties of Caribbean plant starts to independent garden centers around the Northwest. The collection includes sorghum, Scotch Bonnet peppers, callaloo (aka amaranth), several hibiscus species, pigeon peas and peanuts.

"I am amazed that they would be able to grow peanuts here,” said Aruna Anderson. She runs Caribbean Spice, an international grocery in Northeast Portland. Many of the same foods can be found on her shelves in cans and packages. Just about all were imported from warmer countries.

"I have heard of a lot of people growing Scotch Bonnets,” Anderson said. “But they plant it indoors. Then they take it out. It's in big planters."

The wholesale grower, Log House Plants, organized field trials in Oregon and Washington last year to see which of more than 40 "culturally important" Caribbean plants could flourish here. The creator of the Grow Haiti project at Log House, Myrtle Von Damitz, says she selected the ones that grew the best to go to retail.

In the Pacific Northwest, "peanuts are more of a fascination, not a cash crop," Von Damitz observed. "But they are fun plants."

She said it is not unreasonable to believe Caribbean plants could grow to maturity in our northern clime with proper early season TLC. "People grow tomatoes here, and those are southern plants," Von Damitz said.

Other plants in the Grow Haiti collection include okra, Southern pea (cowpea), Caribbean pumpkin and an heirloom tomato from Haiti.

A portion of the sales of this plant collection will benefit the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a nonprofit that supports reforestation and self-sufficiency in Haiti.

A "Meet and Greet" and kick-off of the plant collection is happening this Sunday, April 26, from 12-2 p.m. at Portland Nursery, 9000 SE Division Street. Lambi Fund Deputy Director Stephen Reichard as well as the charity's Digital Outreach Manager Sophie Hawkins, both residents of Portland, will join Myrtle Von Damitz from Log House to discuss the Grow Haiti project.

A similar event is planned for early June at Sky Nursery in Shoreline, Washington.

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Recipe for a vegetarian version of Calalou via Chowhound:

1 lb callaloo greens

1 lb okra, topped and tailed

1 medium-size onion, coarsely chopped

1 bouquet garni: scallions, fresh thyme, and parsley

salt and pepper to taste

1⁄2 scotch bonnet pepper, minced

6 1⁄2 c water

1 clove garlic, minced

1⁄2 lb cooked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice

juice of three limes

Clean the callaloo thoroughly, and remove the woody ribs. Chop the okra and the callaloo and place them in a large saucepan. Add the onion, bouquet garni, salt and black pepper, chili, and water. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, over a medium flame for 30 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and put it through a food mill until it is a smooth purée. Throw it back in the saucepan and add the garlic, ham, and lime juice. Continue to cook over medium low heat for 10 minutes. Do not allow the soup to come to a second boil or it will lose its texture. Serve immediately.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.