WOrking to Perpetuate the purple Tsai Tsai
To many farmers, chefs and eaters, the winter months symbolize a time of scarcity, with muted colors and flavors on the farm and on our plates. At Stone Barns Center, we take this scarcity as a challenge to embrace. We are always exploring ways to celebrate each season’s delicious offerings and the crops that do best in the cold so we can eat locally year round.
This quest has led us to varieties that aren’t often found on northeastern farms, like Tsai Tsai, which we originally started working with about eight years ago while seeking to diversify our winter greenhouse crops. Chefs at Blue Hill at Stone Barns already loved the stalky celtuce, and we wanted to bring in more vegetables that would do well in the cold season and offer culinary diversity for the restaurant and our community.
The same seed company that supplied us with celtuce directed us to Tsai Tsai, another vegetable prized for its meaty stalk. Like the celtuce, Tsai Tsai has proven to be a delicious addition to the kitchen and winter plate. The prized tsumobina (flower buds) are tender and piquant, and each seed yields a large, bulky plant with a tremendous amount of food, allowing chefs to make efficient use of the crop. It also grows milder and sweeter over the winter in our soil-based greenhouse, making it an optimal addition for farmers in the northeast.
We have been selecting and saving seeds for large sweet stalks, abundant tsubomina buds and naturally resilient plants for our climate. We are also perpetuating the unusual and equally delicious purple Tsai Tsai we encountered years ago when growing the original green varieties. This variety is not only pleasing to the eye, but also carries the special purple pigment Anthocyanin, which adds an antioxidant boost.
Tsai Tsai’s story shines a light on how much vegetable diversity has been engineered out of our diets in the rush to standardization and commodification. Our hope is that as more farmers and chefs see it here, the more demand will grow for Tsai Tsai and other lesser-known varieties. As with the dozens of experimental varieties we work with every year, the investment we make in showcasing the value and deliciousness of Tsai Tsai will continue to catalyze increased diversity in seed catalogs and biodiversity in the soil and on our plates.