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IncrEdibles Food blog

In the summer and autumn of 2013 Kew Gardens celebrated the amazing bounty of the plant world, inviting visitors to experience first-hand a selection of the 12,000 species we humans can feast on. Throughout the festival people from all over Kew contributed to this blog, sharing their behind-the-scenes experiences of creating festival attractions as well as shedding light on the wonderful world of edible plants.

Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook available exclusively at Kew

By: Cicely Henderson - 19 Jul 2013
'Kew’s Global Kitchen Cookbook' celebrates the glorious variety of edible plants, with 101 recipes from around the world, richly illustrated with botanical art. The book is available to buy exclusively at Kew, including online, until October 2013. Take a look inside and find out more about the author.
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Introducing 'Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook'

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Over the centuries the world’s cuisines have developed and changed, reflecting the way humans have explored the world and exploited its plant resources. It is a thrilling story in which explorers, plant smugglers and colonists all played a role, motivated by the desire for tasty, abundant and nutritious food. Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook tells this story with a unique combination of historical essays, delicious recipes, and beautiful illustrations from Kew's Archives.

The cover of 'Kew’s Global Kitchen Cookbook'

The cover of Kew’s Global Kitchen Cookbook which features 101 recipes from around the world. (Credit: RBG Kew)

About the author

Carolyn Fry is a journalist and author specialising in science, conservation and natural history. A former editor of Geographical (the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society), she is a contributor to New Scientist, BBC Wildlife, Guardian Unlimited (environment) and Kew magazine, and is the author of The Plant Hunters (Andre Deutsch) and The Last Great Plant Hunt (Kew Publishing). 

Her introduction to the book describes the gradual spread of edible plants around the world, through farming and human exploration. Each of the following chapters opens with an essay investigating the edible history of the different regions of the world and describing the unique plants of each continent.

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Recipe for orange vacherin accompanied with botanical art from Kew's Acrhives (Image: RBG Kew)

Delicious recipes and historical illustrations

The book's 101 recipes match the diversity of our edible flora, explaining in detail how to create dishes such as parsnip tart, truffle crepes, Cincinnati chilli, orange vacherin, Kashmiri fish curry, plantation smoothie, sweetcorn and crab fritters, and pineapple cheesecake with chilli. The recipes are sourced from past issues of Kew Magazine and range from healthy and unusual salads and soups to hearty main dishes and sumptuous desserts. Each of the plants featured has its own story of travel and adventure, and historical, botanical and economic themes are brought to life through the text.

In addition, the book contains over 140 beautiful botanical paintings carefully selected from Kew's vast archive of historical illustrations, showing how these exotic plants were viewed by some of the earliest European explorers and artists.

Pineapple illustration

Pineapple illustration from the 1705 book, Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium (Image: RBG Kew)

Sample recipe - Pineapple cheesecake with chilli

Native to South America, pineapples were first introduced to Europe by Columbus as the ‘pina de Indias’. Rich in manganese and vitamin C, delicious raw or cooked, they feature in many cuisines. Jane Suthering’s tasty dessert, included in the book, uses the pineapple's sweet juice to balance the bite of hot chilli. Serves 6–8.

12 digestive biscuits, crushed
75g (3oz) unsalted butter, melted
40ml (8 tsp) pineapple juice
10ml (2 tsp) powdered gelatine
500g (1lb) cream (or curd) cheese
50g (2oz) icing sugar, sifted
60ml (2½fl oz) light rum
75g (3oz) caster sugar
10ml (2 tsp) fresh lime juice
¼ of a large, medium ripe pineapple (or ½ of a small/medium one), peeled and thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 large red chilli, halved, de-seeded and finely chopped

1. Mix the biscuit crumbs and butter and press on to the base of a 19cm (8in) spring-release tin. Chill.
2. Put the pineapple juice and gelatine into a small saucepan and leave to soak for 2–3 mins, then warm over the gentlest heat until dissolved.
3. Beat the cream cheese with the icing sugar, then slowly beat in the rum. Stir a spoonful of this mixture into the gelatine, and then slowly mix that back into the bulk of the cheese mixture. Spoon on to the biscuit base and level the surface. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, or up to 24 hours.
4. Meanwhile, dissolve the caster sugar in 100ml (3½fl oz) of water, then bring to the boil. Add the lime juice, prepared pineapple and chilli, and bring back to the boil. Immediately switch off the heat and leave the syrup to go cold.
5. Remove the cheesecake from its mould and decorate the top with the drained pineapple. Serve the syrup separately.

Where to see the plants

Many of the plants featured in Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook can be seen at the IncrEdibles festival, in particular at the Global Kitchen Garden and at the Rose Garden Tea Party.

Photo of the Global Kitchen Garden in Kew Gardens

The Global Kitchen Garden featuring many of the plants included in Kew's Global Kitchen Cookbook (Photo: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)

Also, the Kew shop stocks many of the edible plants described in the book as both plants and seeds, including chilli peppers, sweet peppers, mint, basil, parsnips and beetroot. You can buy a selection of garden tools and find lots of information about how to grow them yourself.

Finally, the book reminds us that relishing edible plants today needs to go hand-in-hand with acknowledging how lucky we are to have access to so much diversity, and how we need to preserve that diversity for the future.

– Cicely –


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Kew’s Global Kitchen Cookbook is available to buy from Kew’s online shop or in the Gardens for the exclusive price of £10 (RRP £14.95)



Visit the IncrEdibles Festival

The Global Kitchen Garden

The Global Kitchen Garden, situated on the Great Lawn opposite Kew Palace, features over 90 edible plants from every corner of the globe. Two semi-circular inner beds are dedicated to herbs while five outer beds represent different regions of the world. Grapes, pomegranate and olive trees are planted in a circular design, and beautiful arches draped with climbers make this a stunning space to explore. Discover where some of our best-loved food plants have travelled from and be introduced to some lesser-known and obscure ones!

Rose Garden Tea Party

Visitors are invited to Kew’s tea party where a huge variety of edible plants are growing out of plates, cups, teapots, dishes, jugs and platters. Interactive riddles give visitors the chance to guess what ingredients are needed to go into their favourite treats. The plants are grouped and themed at each dining place and visitors can sit down to enjoy a story about each edible plant. You can move from one dining place to another investigating the different themes linking edible plants, and take photos of each other relaxing on the beautiful handmade chairs. (The Rose Garden Tea Party was created by Kirsti Davies & Giles Thaxton.)

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Fancy an ice cream bean for dessert?

By: Wolfgang Stuppy - 12 Jul 2013

For the IncrEdibles festival Kew’s resident seed specialist Wolfgang Stuppy is contributing bite-size features about weird and wonderful edible plants from around the world. In the second of the series – the incredible ice cream bean!

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When travelling to far-away tropical countries, we are likely to encounter strange-looking but excitingly delicious fruits. One of these scrumptious exotics is the South American ice cream bean (members of the genus Inga spp, Leguminosae, for example Inga edulis, Inga feuilleei and Inga rhynchocalyx).

  • Guaba The ice cream bean is locally known as ‘guaba’ (pronounced ‘wuba’). Behind this mouth-watering name lies a beautiful tree with a remarkable fruit.

Photo of the fruit of Inga edulis

Fruit of the ice cream bean tree (Inga edulis, Leguminosae) photographed in its native Brazil (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

  • Height An ice cream bean tree produces bean-like pods that can exceed two metres in length and grow 30m (96ft) off the ground.
  • Sweet seeds Inside, lined up in one row, the pods contain numerous large purple-black seeds embedded in an edible, translucent-white pulp. The sweet flavour of the spongy pulp resembles that of vanilla ice cream, hence the name.

Photo of the fruit of Inga rhynchocalyx

Another delicious ice cream bean, Inga rhynchocalyx, a native of the Amazon rainforest (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy) 

  • Spectacular flowers It’s not only the fruits that make Inga trees so very special. Their flowers, which produce the delicious ice cream beans, are pretty amazing too. They only open for one night and wither very quickly in the early morning. Like many other nocturnal flowers, they are large, white in colour and arranged in dense clusters (inflorescences).

Photo of Inga rhynchocalyx flowers

The nocturnal, brush-like flowers of Inga rhynchocalyx only last for one night and are mainly pollinated by bats (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

- Wolfgang Stuppy - 

Read the full story about the IncrEdible ice cream bean on the Millennium Seed Bank blog 



IncrEdible festival attractions

Tutti Frutti Boating Experience

Take a ride on the Tutti Frutti Boating Experience with Bompas & Parr and enter the secret banana grotto, beneath Pineapple Island!

Food and Drink

Taste our Amazing ice-cream, take part in the IncrEdibles Tasty Trail, enjoy an IncrEdibles Barbeque, sample ales, beers and ciders from around the country, and more ...

Family Fun

Join in the Rose Garden Tea Party, get the little ones' faces painted, and more ...

IncrEdibles Attractions

Explore the The Global Kitchen Garden, discover something tasty in the Tropical larder, pick up spicy chilli recipes at the Flavour Fiesta, and more ...

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Kohl rabi - colourful and tasty too!

By: Ruth Calder - 10 Jul 2013
Ruth Calder, one of Kew's horticulture students, writes about kohl rabi and answers the questions she gets asked most often - “What is it?” and “What can I do with it?"
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A purple monster!

Kohl rabi certainly looks odd if you’re not used to it, but the only real mystery is why it’s not more popular, as it’s both easy to grow and delicious.

Close-up photo of kohl rabi on the students' veg plot

Close-up of Kohl rabi growing on the Kew horticulture students' vegetable plot (Photo: Ruth Calder)

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s from the same species as cabbage – as are kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and others! They’re all varieties of Brassica oleracea, which really highlights how diverse plants can be, even within a single species.

How to grow kohl rabi

Sow the seed ½” deep in rows 20" apart, outside from April onwards, or for cold areas sow inside and plant out later on. It’s said to like a light, free-draining soil and has certainly thrived in the student plots despite a very sandy soil and not much feeding. This is the first year I’ve grown it and I’ve found it an unfussy crop; it likes regular watering to prevent it from either drying out or splitting, and it had a little trouble with both pigeons and aphids, but other than that has been problem-free. It’s quick to mature, being ready to harvest in about eight weeks. Don’t let the stems grow over 3” in diameter, or they become tasteless and woody.

How to eat kohl rabi

The stem has a cabbagey, slightly spicy taste. I usually grate it into a salad, but it’s also good steamed or stir-fried, or in soups and stews. The leaves can also be used in the same way as cabbage leaves. Remember to remove the leaves if you store your kohl rabi for a little while after harvesting – they constantly lose water, which they draw from the stem, causing it to shrivel faster. The same applies to carrots and radishes.

It’s also quite beautiful in a way we don’t expect from brassicas, which don’t have a reputation for being particularly exciting. There’s a less striking green version, but the one we’re growing is ‘Kolobri’, whose vivid purple stems, arching leaf stalks and grey-green leaves would be a lovely addition to a garden even without their culinary merits.

Close-up photo of Kohl rabi leaf

Close-up of Kohl rabi leaf (Photo: Ruth Calder)

Colourful veg

It’s one of several vegetables currently brightening up the student plots: we have cut flowers growing too but the vegetables are certainly holding their own in terms of appearance! It makes me wonder if the division between “decorative” and “productive” gardening is a bit artificial, and I will certainly be mixing the two together more in future.

Colourful veg
Colourful veg – from left to right: tomato flowers, swiss chard, potato flowers and asparagus pea flowers

Pests and how to deal with them

However, at this time of the year it’s all too easy to lose these treasures to the ever-present army of pests that want to eat our crops before we get to them. Some you may meet with this year are:

  • Birds – pigeons in particular have wrought havoc with kohl rabi and nasturtiums on our plots. Deter them by planting plenty of sticks among the plants to stop birds landing, or by using fleece or net – which will also keep away cabbage white butterflies.

Photo of Kohl rabi with sticks

Kohl rabi with sticks (Photo: Ruth Calder)

  • Aphids – I’m sure gardeners always say this, but it seems to have been a particularly bad year for aphids. So far I’ve found them on the beans, peas, kohl rabi, radishes, nasturtiums, carrots and lettuces, and I no longer dare look at anything else! You can rub them off by hand, or spray with a soap-based insecticide (check it’s safe for food crops!). Flicking them away with a paintbrush is a good way to remove them from tender young shoots without damaging the plants. Whichever method you choose, make sure you do it little and often, so they don’t have time to build up.
  • And a happy note to finish on – you may find little semi-circular bites taken from the edges of your broad bean leaves, with no sign of the mystery culprit. The good news is that this is the work of a leaf weevil, Sitona lineatus, which won’t have any impact on your crop – so you can just leave him to his munching!

Photo of a bowl with fresh vegetables
June Harvest (Photo: Ruth Calder)

Come and buy

Last but not least - after a slow start to the year, produce is finally bursting forth from the plots (see photo above), sometimes in greater amounts than we can cope with, especially for those of us who haven’t yet mastered the art of successional sowing! So do come down to the plots on a Friday lunchtime where you can buy some of the surplus, just a few hours after it’s been harvested. Yum!

- Ruth -


Student Vegetable Plots and weekend 'grow your own' surgeries

Come and admire our extensive vegetable plots, managed by students from Kew's School of Horticulture, and be inspired to get planting yourself! At the weekend, students and apprentices are around to offer visitors advice about seed sowing, transplanting and proven techniques, so you can get the most out of your garden. They'll also be available to answer your questions.

  • When are the student vegetable plots open? - all day, during Garden opening hours
  • When are the 'grow your own' surgeries' open? - Every Saturday and Sunday, 11am - 4pm
  • Price -  free, with admission to the Gardens
  • Where are the student vegetable plots? - The student vegetable plots are behind the Davies Alpine House at the bottom right of the Kew Gardens map - Plan your visit with the IncrEdibles Voyage map (pdf)

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Making the IncrEdibles Rose Garden Tea Party

By: Kirsti Davies - 04 Jul 2013
Guest blogger Kirsti Davies, creator of Kew’s unique Tea Party table, writes about the creative and practical process of building the installation.
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The aim

My intention behind creating the Tea Party table was to portray botanical information in a fun and theatrical way. The table is meant to be a feast for the eyes which also entices visitors to learn more about the plants that make the food products we all come into contact with every day.

Photo of the Rose Garden Tea Party behind the Palm House

The Rose Garden Tea Party, located next to the Palm House (Photo: Kirsti Davies)

The table focuses on the wonders of the edible plants that make up a quintessential British tea party. Each of the 40 table settings is themed around a dish which might be served at a tea party including Earl Grey and Lady Grey tea, strawberry jam, honey, mustard, chutney, piccalilli, and many more. We've even thrown in a few 'mad-hatter'-esque settings, such as edible weeds and flowers, and some with a patriotic British tinge: edible plants with royal names; and the national plants of the UK (Welsh leek, English rose, Scottish thistle and Northern Irish flax).

It's been a brilliant adventure designing and making the table and over 30 people helped me produce it, so it's definitely been a team effort.

Laying the table

The china is all hand-decorated. With the help of Stokes Croft China in Bristol, we sourced the finest English bone china white-ware from Staffordshire, some of it twenty to forty years old and in shapes and designs no longer manufactured. We used a mixture of botanical illustrations from Kew's archive, our own hand-drawn illustrations, riddles and rhymes and fired them onto plates and tea cups to bring the table alive.


Photo of hand painted china on the tea table

Hand-painted china on the tea table (Photo: Kirsti Davies)

It was a challenging process to produce a unique design for every single item on the table. Another tricky part was drilling holes into the china pieces as they needed to be screwed to the table top. Unbelievably, I didn't lose a single piece. Bone china is surprisingly strong - English fine bone china must contain 50% bone ash. The glaze on the china is often transparent, so the colour of china is the colour of the clay and bone. It's been an amazing medium to work with and I hope you can tell that we've taken a lot of time and effort over sourcing and handcrafting everything.

Crafting the table and chairs

The table and chairs are also hand-crafted using green oak, a substantial and beautiful wood to work with, and FSC certified. The table changes every day because the oak is slowly drying and turning from gold to silver in the sun.

Photo of installing the tea party table at Kew

Installing the table. Under the tabletop is a hidden layer of soil (photo: Kirsti Davies)

So far the table has been a big hit, which makes all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. It's been brilliant working with Kew, especially the Horticulture team, who I am completely in awe of for keeping the tea plants growing in the UK.

So whether you're a connoisseur of hand-decorated English china, appreciative of traditional carpentry techniques, or a student of botanical illustration, there is something at the table to entertain everyone. Make sure you pay a visit before the end of the summer. Mad hatter tea party hats and costumes not obligatory - but heavily encouraged!

To find out more about the table and how we made it check out  

Rose Garden tea party

Come to Kew’s tea party! See a huge variety of different edible plants, growing out of beautiful plates, goblets, dishes, jugs and platters.

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The wild tomatoes of Peru

By: Oliver Whaley - 02 Jul 2013
Tomatoes are among the Vegetable Medley which is currently transforming Kew's Palm House parterre into a stunning display of edible plants. You might imagine tomatoes originated on the sunny slopes of the Mediterranean - but you'd be wrong: for the birthplace of the noble tom is the remote desert oases of Peru.
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The deserts of Peru

Peru’s arid Pacific coast is part of one of the oldest, driest and longest deserts in the world, the Peru-Chile desert which includes Sechura desert in North Peru and the Atacama in the south, and extending into Chile. And it is here under the simmering sun, and at times bathed in coastal fog, that the quebradas (deep valleys that emerge from the Andes) and river oases provide the true home to the wild relatives of the tomato.

Photo of a dry coastal valley of Ica, Peru

Dry coastal valley of Ica, Peru, typical habitat of wild tomatoes (Photo: Oliver Whaley, RBG Kew)

Cochas crying with happiness

Quechua Inca legend has it that, cradled high in the Andes, the cochas (small lakes) were the children of the mother water, Mamacocha, or the sea. When the cochas overflowed after rain, they ran crying with happiness, cascading into the dry valleys on their journey home to Mamacocha − thus bringing life to the desert. And along these rivers and irrigated borders the tiny berries of wild tomatoes, the size of peas, proliferate every year the water flows.

Photo of  Solanum pimpinellifolium bush

Solanum pimpinellifolium, so called because of its Pimpinella-like leaves with their variable size and shape, is a wild tomato native to Peru.(Photo: Oliver Whaley, RBG Kew)

The Solanum genus

As well as tomatoes, the Solanum genus includes other important foods such as the Potato (Solaunum tuberosum) and the Aubergine (Solanum melongena), and you can also find these in the IncrEdibles Vegetable Medley.

The tomato we eat today is called Solanum lycopersicum (previously called Lycopersicon esculentum) and, like most of today’s crops, is a hybrid of various wild species. If you tease out the genetic code you can reveal the whole ancestral history of Mr Tom and it turns out that pieces of the DNA of the tomato on your plate reveal genetic fingerprints of the wild berries from the dry Andean valleys.

Today, this is an easy forensic technique that could even be done on your tomato ketchup and we now know that our supermarket tomato is related to, and derived from, at least in part, a bunch of southern Peruvian coastal ‘great grandparent’ species (some of which also grow in dry northern Chile and southern Ecuador and Bolivia). Beside S.pimpinellifolium these include: S. chilenseS. pennellii and S. peruvianum.

What's in a name?

The word “tomato” is derived from tomātl, a word in Náhuatl, one of the native Mexican languages, which describes plants bearing globose, juicy fruits. Tomato-like plants also thrive in Mexico and this is perhaps where the Spanish conquistadores assimilated the word, before bringing it to the wider world.

Kew's work in Peru

Kew has been working in Peru for many years. The Huarango Project began in 2005 and is helping the local community in Ica to establish a tree nursery and planting programme. One of the beauties of living and working in the region is stumbling across one of the species listed above, with blinding yellow, as well as pale mauve and white, flowers quivering in the sunny valley bottoms, rejuvenated after a single flash flood.


Photo of Solanum peruvianum

Young flowers of Solanum peruvianum (Photo: Oliver Whaley, RBG Kew)

The Huarango Festival

The highlight of the year is the annual Huarango Festival which is every bit as colourful as a South American festival should be. The festival provides a cultural celebration of local native plants including wild tomatoes - so encouraging their use and conservation. Kew is helping this by collaborating with the Huarango Festival and Samaca Products, an organically registered farm in the Oasis valley of Rio Ica, Southern Peru, to produce a range of products including these delicious sun-dried wild tomatoes. At the moment they're only available in Peru - but it would be great if we could import them and sell them in the Kew shop. Watch this space!


Photo of jars of sun-dried tomatoes produced by Samaca Products in Peru

Sun-dried tomatoes produced by Samaca Products in Peru (Photo: Alfonso Orellana)

So when the British summer fails to ripen your tomato and the one on your salad looks rather peaky and forlorn, think of its desert home and imagine the Peruvian ‘children of water‘ bringing red glowing happiness and flavour to your plate!

- Oliver Whaley -


Palm House Parterre: Vegetable Medley

The Palm House Parterre is being transformed into an edible display including tomatoes, aubergine, chillies, celeriac, celery, kohl rabi, aubergines, leeks, sweetcorn, bell pepper, beetroot and florence fennel as well as runner beans, kale and chard. Visitors who feel inspired will be able to pick up top growing tips from Kew’s horticulturalists.

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Week by week horticulturalists, botanists and attractions organisers from all around Kew Gardens wrote for this special IncrEdibles blog, describing behind-the-scenes experiences and sharing insights into the amazing world of edible plants.

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