Friday 20 June 2008

Linden Leaf Pap (Porridge)

An African porridge with an European twist.

The use of dried leaves and mucilaginous greens to thicken stews and porridges is a well known tradition in African (particularly West African) cookery. Indeed, this is one of the many ways that the leaves of the Baobab tree are used in northern West Africa. Baobab is very versatile, with the dry pulp of the fruit being made into a drink that's very high in vitamin C. Indeed, the vitamin C content of baobab leaves is very high and the young leaves can be eaten as a vegetable. The older leaves are dried and pounded to a paste or shredded and are made into tea or are used in soups, stews and porridges as a thickener (the tree is grown commercially in Senegal for this very purpose).

What might be surprising to many people is that there is an European tree, the leaves of which have been used for a very similar purpose (and which were commonly used for these purposes in France as recently as 60 years ago). This is the Linden or Lime tree and there's a cognate species in North America.

During the Second World War, when supplies were getting scarce and even grain was a rare commodity, the French returned to a Medieval method for making flour go further. They began collecting linden (European lime) leaves which were dried in ovens before being pounded to a powder and sifted. This 'linden leaf flour' as it was commonly called was added to wheat flour to make it go further.

Linden leaves contain a mucilaginous substance which acts as a thickener. As a result linden flour was also added to stews to thicken them (useful if little meat and few vegetables are available) and it was also added to oats and wheat to make a porridge.

It's this porridge that's re-created here. I've based the recipe on one from West Africa, but linden leaf flour is substituted for Baobab leaf powder (the two dried leaf products have very similar culinary properties). It should be noted that 'pap' is actually an Afrikaans word meaning 'porridge' or 'gruel' but it's a word that's come into common currency in most English-speaking African countries.

300g maize meal (or polenta)

60g linden leaf flour

300ml water

Bring the water to a boil and add the polenta until a stiff mixture is attained then stir-in the linden leaf flour. Leave to simmer for 25 minutes, stirring every five minutes to prevent burning. Serve with a stew or a sauce.

You could make a version of this with porridge oats and that could be served as a breakfast.

As it turns out, recent research has revealed that linden leaves may even be beneficial when added to flour as they contain a high percentage of invert sugars. As a result they are readily metabolized by those suffering from diabetes and can be an useful addition to diabetic recipes. Thus this porridge makes an excellent start to the day for diabetics (or anyone else, come to that!).

If you are interested in the parallels between the use of linden leaves in African and Louisiana Creole cookery then read this article on Clues to lost recipes with Linden.

For more information about the European lime, linden, see the Celtnet Wild Food Guide to Linden and Linden recipes page.

If the use of linden leaves has piqued your curiosity, then you can find many more linden (and other wild food) recipes on the Celtnet Wild Foods Recipes pages.

For all the wild food recipes on this blog, see the wild food recipes page.
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