Have you ever noticed that California fruit trees
seem to be among the most fertile in the country? Artificial insemination.
That's the answer. Dust pollen on the trees, the bees do their thing,
and crop sizes increase. Sugar Ranch in Visalia, CA owned by Rebb.
Firman is one of a handful of agricultural producers of pollen, and he
can become downright lyrical about a trade that traces back to his grandmother's
inspired efforts. It is believed that she was the world's first collector
of pollen to be sold to farmers for agricultural purposes. Undoubtedly,
that doting visionary could not have foreseen the newest direction her
business would take. Wild fennel pollen, collected by her grandson, has
become the latest seasoning darling of chefs throughout the country.
It all started with an article by Peggy Knickerbocker in the San Francisco
Chronicle. She discovered that Italian chefs were using fennel pollen
as a seasoning in Italy. She brought some back for her friends and discovered
that, like the Italians, her companions, too, enjoyed the fennel-like
flavor it imparted to foods. Unlike the fennel seed, which many feel should
be crushed to get the flavor required in blends and rubs, one can use
fennel pollen right out of the package.
Firman, knowing a thing or two about the commercial potential for pollen,
was not slow to recognize a budding new market and wasted no time in throwing
his hat in the ring. He had all the equipment necessary to process pollen,
and then there were those California hillsides rife with wild fennel.
An enlightened vision he had, but then he acknowledged a problem. "I had
always marketed to farmers," he said, "and I had no idea how to reach
chefs who would have to work fennel pollen into their recipes." A few
deftly constructed press releases, several phone calls to food distributors,
and to a number chefs did the trick. Requests for his product began to
land on his desk.
But be aware; the stuff is not cheap. In fact, you can put the cost of
fennel pollen in the same exotic financial realm as saffron. Fennel pollen's
intense flavor is also comparable to that of saffron; a little goes a
long way. My package arrived double wrapped in a padded mailer, and still
my day's mail had picked up a strong scent of fennel. In fact, the entire
post office smelled to the point that one could envision swarms of pollen
ecstatic bees arriving on the scene.
There is one caveat to using fennel pollen: allergies. Airborne, it has
the impact that any pollen might have on one who is allergic. Once in
the prepared food, however, where it becomes inert, it flavors like any
other seasoning, and there are no ill-consequences. The warning is proffered
primarily for chefs who may be exposed to it in large airborne quantities.
Directly from the package, Rebb simply sprinkles it on his steamed broccoli
or potatoes before serving. It adds flavor to a steamed mussel wine broth.
Brad Stabinsky, chef for The Prudential Center For Learning and Innovation
in Norwalk, CT uses it in his mix for a gravlax-style salmon. He also
(as have I) has made a delightfully fennel flavored butter for vegetables.
For more information, contact Rebb Firman at his website fennelpollen.com.
This article was originally featured on
Helen Brody While
creating and managing a food production facility servicing four stores
for Hay Day Country Markets in Connecticut (now owned by Sutton Place
Gourmet), I used seasonings to simplify the production of quality prepared
meals. Seasonings need not only be herbs and spices, but other food elements,
such as a beef essence, tomato paste, condiments, or a puree of fruit
or vegetable can serve as excellent and healthful flavorings.
I write a weekly culinary essay called "'Tis the
Seasonings" for a daily paper in Connecticut and have been hired as a
consultant on the Hungry Minds educational website. As the author of Cooking
With Fire, a book of notes and early American recipes I adapted 19th century
seasoning quantities to today's palate. The book won the McIhenny award
for best England Cookbook. I am a member of the International Association
for Culinary Professionals and the newsletter editor for the Culinary
Historians of New York.