Fennel seed is not something that falls within my regular repertoire. I like but don’t exactly love fresh fennel, but though I’m not a huge licorice/anise person, I find the taste of fennel seed to be surprisingly sweet and refreshing.
We’ve had this one bronze fennel plant growing on the hill above the house for a couple years. Standing next to it, you really get the best view of Marys Peak (highest mountain in the Oregon Coast Range) from our place.
Over the summer, I noticed that the fennel plant was looking super robust, and the bees were going to town on the pollen from the flowers. (See an August photo of the same plant on Instagram here.) I contemplated swapping fennel heads for dill in pickles, but I was kinda skeptical and decided against it. As autumn progressed, the spent flowers browned and dried out, chock full of seed.
I collected some dill seed earlier this fall, but I lost a lot because the seed would drop from the stems onto the ground at the slightest disturbance. The nice thing about harvesting fennel seed is that it doesn’t shatter hardly at all. Those little pods stay affixed tightly to the twiggy stems even if handled quite a bit.
About two weeks ago before it started raining seriously, I went up the hill and clipped a bunch of seed heads and stuffed them into a cloth bag. I noticed that there were quite a few ladybugs prowling around, but I didn’t think much of it. I brought the bag in the house, and about an hour later, Charlotte pointed out that large portions of the outside of the bag were absolutely crawling with aphids. I moved the bag outside again, and let it hang on the covered front porch for a couple days until the aphid population cleared out.
After airing on the porch in nice weather, I hung the cloth bag of seed from the pot rack in the house where it’s super warm and dry. In a few days, the stems had crisped up, and the collection was ready for “threshing”.
Because I was cleaning such a small amount of seed, I didn’t feel the need to be super efficient about my methodology, so I just kneaded the bag for a while, rolling the seeds and stems around between my hands through the cloth. When I peeked in, a giant puff of fennel dust assaulted me, but I also saw that most of the seed had separated from the stems. From there, I sifted the contents of the bag through a colander and tossed the remaining, mostly seedless woody debris into the compost.
Henry offered to blow the seed with the tractor fan (like this), but I opted to just pour it back and forth from one big bowl to another big pot a few times outside in a light breeze. That swept out the vast majority of the chaff. The end product does contain a few bits of fine stem, but I’ll be able to pick those out when it comes time to cook with it.
I ended up with about a pint of fennel seed, and that was only about a third of what one plant produced. I think that much should last us at least a year of moderate to heavy use.
If you want to grow your own fennel seed, I highly recommend Wild Garden Seed‘s ‘Bronze’ fennel, which won’t produce much of a bulb, but you’ll get a ton of frond and seed. Wild Garden Seed is the seed-growing arm of Gathering Together Farm, and they process a whole lot of fennel. (You can see one of my photos of their 2011 fennel harvest here.) Plus the WGS folks are really nice people.
So my question for you…What do you like to do with fennel seed? I asked the same question on Instagram and got a few really good suggestions:
biscotti, wine braised ribs/pork/meatballs/meat sauce, these cookies, cherry pie (from here), fondue, salmon, this ice cream, taralli (suggested by Tim of Kitchen Garden Farm), and simply as a delicious digestive aid and breath freshener before and after meals (straight up or in tea).
Leave a comment if you have a good fennel seed recipe I should try. Thanks!