Monday, June 4, 2012

Turk's Cap

Turk's Cap Flowers

Turk's Cap Flowers and Mexican Apples, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii
Eat the leaves, flowers and fruit raw or cooked.

The Mexican apple is more commonly known as Turk’s cap but that name, while appropriately describing the shape of the flower, does little justice to its edible qualities. The Mexican apple plant is one of the few multi-season wild edibles that gives us Texans something to nibble nearly every month of the year.

The Mexican apple is a low-growing perennial shrub that typically grows in shaded woodlands and spreads easily and quickly by underground runners. It is also a very common landscape plant and is one of the easiest wild edibles to transplant into your own yard. The opposite, thick leaves often look like baseball mits and are the size of the average palm on a hand.  The tiny red flowers on top of the plant do look like Turk’s caps that eventually turn into tiny, red apple-like fruits. It can be found growing wild and in landscapes throughout Texas.

Beginning in late winter, the tender young leaves sprout from the perennial roots, giving us some greens for salads or cooking. As the weather heats up and the plants get bigger, the leaves quickly loose their tenderness, become a little fuzzy and are better cooked or used for dolmas. Harvest the beautiful, red flowers in late spring and summer to adorn your salads. But remember to leave some blooms to the bees so that the plant will produce the sugary, cucumber-tasting Mexican apples in the fall.

Turks cap leaves should be washed and hydro-cooled and can be stored for a couple of days fresh. They can also be preserved like grape leaves. The flowers are extremely perishable and should be plucked just before they are served fresh. You can also dry the flowers and make a hibiscus-like tea out of them – the Mexican apple plant is related to hibiscus. Whether they are the size of marbles or pinballs, Mexican apples shrivel quickly due to their low water content and should be eaten or processed soon after harvest.
Mexican Apple or Turk's Cap Fruit

Mexican Apple Agua Fresca
Makes 2 cups agua fresca
The amber color of this juice may trick folks into believing it is actually apple juice or Texas tea. But the earthy, cucumber-sweet flavor will be a pleasant, unique surprise. Serve with a few Turk’s cap flower petals floating in each glass for an added wild edible experience. And don’t forget that some juices are meant to be spiked! Add some tequila and you’ll have a delicious cocktail on the rocks.

1/2  c ripe Mexican apples
½ c dried Turk’s cap flowers
2 c water
¼ c sugar (you can adjust sweetener amount and type based on your own taste)

Wash the fruit and place in a saucepan with the flowers, water and sugar. Simmer approximately 15 to 20 minutes until the fruit softens. Crush the fruit with the back of a large spoon or a masher. Strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth and gently squeeze out all the juices. Let it cool and serve over ice.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is great! I knew about the flowers, which I've been pinching off plants as I walk by recently - I like how there's a teensy bit of nectar to make it sweet - but I had never even realized there was a fruit on these! I am also definitely going to try the leaves as dolmades - you read my mind, was just looking for a wild dolmades option...great post, once again!