Friday, May 23, 2008

Kalingag (Cinnamomum mercado)

Yesterday was the International Day for Biological Diversity. To celebrate (albeit late!) this morning, I planted a wild cinnamon tree native to Mindoro. Once used for food, it is now fading into the backdrop of conventional agriculture and plant sameness. Plant sameness is the opposite of biodiversity. It is when things get boring and food gets typical.

Kuya Jon, the farmer who gave me the seedling, called it "kalingao" and had me on a wild goose researchase. He said only that people used to use the leaves for flavoring adobo, and that he considered it to be kind of like laurel in this respect. (Kuya Jon is trying to bring back old varieties of trees in his native Mindoro.)

It was only until I acquired the great and heavy book of Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria that I discovered the plant's identity.

In the 19th century, a certain Padre Juan Martinez de Zuñiga mentioned the kalingag plant as already thriving in Mindoro mountains. A 1700s colonizer used it to flavor ragout. It was being touted by this Spanish fiscal as some kind of wonder-spice that tasted of "cinnamon, clove and pepper all combined", and was proposed to compete for trade with Dutch spices. Apparently, these requests were not entertained and kalingag remained wild for the most part.

And so I will kind of show you how I transplanted it. I dug a hole with a piko or pickaxe. Fortunately, it had been raining and our poor soil was at least soft.

This hole I filled with some partially eaten worm compost. The worms have grown as large as babys' fingers. Silly me to think they would drown while I was gone! The holes I had made on the bottom of the worm box drained all the rain out.

Then I parted the compost, put the kalingag in, and covered it with some wire mesh. This is because creatures like chickens and people pass through this area, and I will be quite sad if they step on the seedling. I hold it to be quite a rare sort. I can't wait to start using it for food.

Although some internet sources equate kalingag with the more common "first class" kanela or cinnamon, they are not identical. In Pampanga, the plant is called kalingad, in Cagayan it is kuliuan or uliuan, in Bataan it is called samiling. Locally used for digestion problems and yeast infections, it is also helpful in situations involving lice.

Now that I think about it, I think I will go outside and encircle in with broken pots and more obstacles.

Celebration of Seeds in Bonn, Germany

I just got in from Germany, where the UN is having its 9th Conference of the Parties (aka COP9) of the Commission on Biodiversity. Near the rail station of downtown Bonn is an exhibition by local and international civil society.

I was very happy to see a lot of booths tackling plant biodiversity, including a few focusing on traditional seed collection. It is quite amazing to see the colors and sizes that scream evolution. I chanced upon the Searice booth, which had little paper mache carabaos.

I met a Nepali guy who lectured me on the different varieties of rice beans. I don't see them much in their "normal" form, much less several varieties of them! The best part was when he gave me some large babies that I'd never seen in the Philippines before.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Rooting / Ornamentation

Over this summer (gone already, thanks Climate Change), especially in between trips, the status of little seedlings was always pretty bad. After India, the "nursery" population was alarmingly low.

So, I chose to root many things while waiting for the rain. Among these were the pandan and sampaguita babies, snapped from our garden and various landscaped public space, respectively.

I like to keep them in cups and put them around the house, as they give off a good smell and contribute to the overall appearance of life in dull corners. Little coaster above made of dried ipil-ipil pods.

Before I skip town, I fill the cups up really well.

Try to experiment with the plants. Some people have said "You can't grow that stuff from cuttings" and I come home to a bunch of white roots poking out.

PS- Some things have been making love on my curry tree.