A few years ago, when I saw a sign for Safran Provence, or Provencal Saffron at a fish mongers, I became intrigued by the idea of growing my own saffron. Saffron is a necessary ingredient for such French fish dishes as Bouillabaisse and Soupe de Poissons (my personal favorite), and the popular Spanish Paella, so it wasn’t surprising to see the sign, near another fish-loving condiment, Sel d’Algue, or seaweed salt.
When I asked for the saffron, I was told it was sold out and would be back in stock after the local October harvest. Saffron is the orange stigma of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativa), and I’d had great success growing other types of crocus, so why not give it a try? That June my husband and I placed a pre-order for 500 bulbs from a reputable bulb producer in Holland. We were told to plant them as soon as they arrived in early September. We planted about half of them before leaving on a trip to Provence. One of the projects on our list was to find a commercial saffron producer.
A neighbor of mine in Provence is a former Garde de Champetre (rural policeman) of two small villages and knows everyone for miles around, plus he’s started growing his own saffron.
He gave me names and contact information for several local producers, and I called the first one on the list, who happened to be in the next village over, introduced myself and asked if I could meet him and see his saffron fields. He told me, “There’s nothing to see. There’s no bloom yet. Not until October.” I would have been happy to see the plants, but I didn’t want to force the issue, so instead I asked if we could at least meet so I could ask him some questions about saffron production. “OK”, he said. “How about in twenty minutes at the bar?” Since the village has only one bar, no name was needed.
Over glasses of rosé, pastis, and sparkling water, M. Begremond gave me and my husband a verbal tour de force of the history of saffron growing in Provence, (introduced by the Greeks, grown all over at one time, production diminished with the wars, his family has been growing it since the 1800s, and he is currently growing about 45, 000 bulbs), the current market prices ( French-grown saffron brings 22,000 Euros per kilo (2.2 pounds), Spanish 17,000 Euros and that from the Maghreb a mere 1500 Euros per kilo), and the growing, harvesting, and yields of saffron bulbs. The latter was accompanied by illustrations sketched on sheets from a Richard Pastis notepad borrowed from the man who owns the bar, who also happened to be M. Begremond’s cousin.
Once we got back from France in early October, we planted the rest of our bulbs according to M. Begremond’s directions. Our first planting, done in September started blooming right on schedule, in mid-October. It was very exciting to go out every morning to harvest the blooms, bring them inside the kitchen, carefully extract the stigmae, and set them out on a plate to dry. Each of these bulbs produced a flower, but the later planting was less successful, with only about half of the bulbs producing a flower. Ideally, each flower will give you 3 stigmae, or threads.
I stored my precious saffron in a small jar as soon as the stigmae were dry, in a day or two. Every few days, I’d open the jar (I still do) just to breathe in the incredible aroma. It was so different, so much more aromatic and complex even than other saffron I’ve purchased. I’ve used some of it, for Soupe de Poisson, for risotto, and for a seafood paella.
This year, I’m looking forward to an even larger harvest, since the crocus bulbs mightily replicate. I dug up one, just to check, and there were 4 bulbs where last year there had been one. So, my 400 bulbs planted last year have now multiplied to over 1500!
New! La Vie Rustic Selling Crocus Saffron Bulbs
I’m very happy for La Vie Rustic to offer Crocus Saffron bulbs to its customers for pre-order. This is important as we will ship them to you immediately upon their arrival here from Holland, for you to plant on reception. You should have a sunny location large enough to plant 25 or 50 bulbs 6 inches apart. The ground should be weed-free, and turned over to at least 10 inches deep. The bulbs can also be planted in pots that are at least 15 inches deep and filled with potting mix. It is important to plant your bulbs as soon as your receive them.
The blooms will begin in October, just 4 to 6 weeks after planting, and continue for 3-5 weeks. Plan to harvest daily.
Your Crocus Saffron bulbs are a robust 8-9 cm, and come packaged in a muslin bag, with a La Vie Rustic instruction card for planting, care, harvesting, drying, and storing, plus a full-color recipe card for French-Style Soupe de Poissons.
Pre-order your crocus now to insure delivery in early September and start planning the dishes to use your home-grown saffron.
Other News and Ideas
La Vie Rustic- Cooking and Living in the French Style by Georgeanne Brennan (Weldon-Owen 2017)– signed copies are available at Food52.com or buy at your favorite bookstore or on-line. Try the Fig-glazed and Fig Stuffed Pork Roast, Pistachio and Beet Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachio Oil, and Strawberry Mousse. Over 100 recipes, loads of gorgeous photos, plus stories.
Plant now for Fall Harvest
Now, mid-summer, is the time to be planting your fall garden. We propose:
La Vie Rustic French Lettuce Seed Collection
La Vie Rustic French Chicory Seed Collection
Get a head start on a year-round garden, planting in August and early September for a fall crop.
Potager Year-round Garden Box with 13 seeds, 3 garden maps and full planting, growing, and harvesting instructions plus 13 metal garden markers.Comes packaged in a gift-worthy Kraft box.
La Vie Rustic Sel d’Algue, seaweed salt. It’s especially good to season seafood and pasta, or to use anytime you want a taste of the sea. Try using it to flavor butter.
La Vie Rustic Pistachio and La Vie Rustic Olive Wood Serving Boards made from California trees by an artisan woodworker at his small mill in Northern California exclusively for La Vie Rustic. These are truly one of a kind and will make a very special Christmas gift.