Dinner with the Pandas: Harvesting Your Own Bamboo

Hello.

Before you cry, “Imposter!”, let me assure you that I have authorization to be here. Mostly. I happen to be Diane’s daughter Miranda, guestblogging and wordsmithing for you today. You might recognize my powdery feet or recollect me when keeping company with chickens (or from diverse other adventures). As much as I enjoying rolling in dust and home decorating with hens, today I’m here to talk about an unusual topic for Vegetariat – food.

The handy rhyme isn’t the only reason I’m sometimes known as Miranda the Panda – I also have a great partiality for a bit of bamboo, much like the vegetarian carnivore from whom I draw my catchy moniker. Luckily, we happen to have a fair bit of the stuff around Finch Frolic these days (bamboo, not pandas). Bamboo shoots are a common – and delicious! – component of Asian cuisines, and bamboo has been used for many culinary purposes, such as flavoring rice, wherever it grows. During this past summer, I was overcome with the need to find more things to eat on the property and began a foray into harvesting our own bamboo shoots.

Our giant species of bamboo arches over many of our paths -- perfect for building material and any shoots that venture into the soil of the paths are prime targets... :)

Our giant species of bamboo arches over many of our paths — perfect for building material, and any shoots that venture into the soil of the paths are prime targets… 🙂

Before I stepped outdoors and started gnawing on the nearest clump, I had to be sure that our bamboo is an edible variety, and hopefully a tasty edible variety. You need the scientific name of your bamboo for that, but once we ferreted out ours (Bambusa beecheyana), it was easy to find notation of its edibility and delectability online. One helpful and extensive listing is on Guadua Bamboo. Happily, there is a large number of edible and tasty bamboo species.

Proof of mange-ability in hand, the next obstacle was divining the best way to get bamboo shoots from the ground to my mouth. Harvesting can be more or less of a challenge, depending on what variety of bamboo one has and how it’s established (e.g., moisture and soil conditions, obstacles like stones around it). To harvest shoots, it’s best to pick fat green ones poking no more than a foot above the ground. You want to catch them before they get too woody, but old enough to have a bit of meat on them, so to speak. The shoot is mostly leaf (tightly layered sheaths), so bulkier shoots are more rewarding.

Removing our bamboo from the ground and its parent plant turned out to be on the more side of challenging.

Miranda and Diane bust out the Finch Frolic arsenal on the recalcitrant shoot.

First, the inimitable spade is set to the task.

First, the inimitable spade is set to the task.

Legs weary and spade abandoned, the small sickle saw is recruited, to little effect.

Legs weary and spade abandoned, the small sickle saw is recruited, to little effect.

Diane had just returned home and gleefully plunged into the fray, skirt, white sandals and all.

Finally, Diane wades into battle with the winning implement.

Finally, Diane wades into battle with the winning implement.

The shoot, freed from the earth and it's parent plant.

The shoot, freed from the earth and its parent plant.

Once we finally achieved success, processing could begin! It is somewhat tiresome to strip a shoot down to the edible white core, because the leaves cling so tightly and are fibrous. It’s like shucking the most stubborn ear of corn in the world. It’s good to slit the tougher outer leaves with a very sharp knife and peel them away.

Slitting the fibrous outer leaves with a filet knife.

Slitting the fibrous outer leaves with a filet knife.

Peeling.

Peeling.

The inner leaves come away more easily – rather like the layers of canned hearts-of-palm – as you get closer to the heart of the bamboo shoot. The innermost leaves are basically fetal, and so are edible because they haven’t gotten tough yet. They make the tip of your shoot look hairy.

Many layers of increasingly tender leaves.

Many layers of increasingly tender leaves.

The edible shoot.

The edible shoot.

A peeled bamboo shoot can be cut up in whatever way the chef desires. The shoot grows more fibrous towards the base, where there is probably some inedible hard material. My current rule of thumbs-carefully-tucked-away is if a sharp knife can pretty easily get through it, it’ll be fine to eat.

A shoot cut in three different ways. The material behind the knife (upper left) is too fibrous to eat.

A shoot cut in three different ways. The material behind the knife (upper left) is too fibrous to eat.

You just have to boil your slices before cooking and consumption because they contain a mild toxin that dissipates with boiling. The first time, we tried boiling in lightly salted water for only 30 minutes, and while the shoots were tender and not really bitter, they left a teeny tingling sensation in our mouths, like stir-fried Pop Rocks. The last time I cooked them, I boiled them for a whole 50 min. to much more satisfactory, un-tingly results.

Boiling to remove toxins.

Boiling to remove toxins.

Bamboo is delicious and a lot of fun (in a somewhat laborious way) to harvest. The beauty of harvesting your own bamboo shoots is that you are saving yourself a trip to specialty markets and controlling your bamboo’s growth at the same time!

Frying up -- yummy!

Frying up — yummy!

So that’s another thing going on here at FFG. Thanks for wandering the bamboo lane with me.

TTFN!

Miranda (the Panda), B.S.

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