Quebec farm tries exotic crop: saffron

Crocus sativus plant, Peißnitzinsel, Germany. Image HeiWu, Creative Commons

Crocus sativus plant, Peißnitzinsel, Germany.
Image: HeiWu, Creative Commons

Do you cook with saffron? Me neither.

It’s rare and expensive. But then again “expensive” can also be worth growing yourself, or trying out as a cash crop.

I was surprised to read this recent CBC item about a farm in Quebec that’s giving saffron a try.

Pur Safran, located in the small Quebec village of St-Elie-de-Caxton, expects to harvest 450 to 500 grams of the precious spice before the end of October.

“We would like for Quebec to become self-sufficient in saffron production, because we can do it,”  said Pur Safran co-owner Nathalie Denault, who not only produces the spice, but teaches other potential growers the ropes.

Saffron comes from the reddish-orange stigmas of a particular crocus flower and is considered to be the most expensive spice in the world.

Crocus sativus, Atlas des plantes de France. 1891

Crocus sativus, Atlas des plantes de France. 1891

NPR’s food blog, The Salt, had an item in early September entitled: These 5 crops are still harvested by hand and it’s hard work. The foods listed were saffron, vanilla, chocolate, palm oil and cottonseed oil.

The tropical stuff isn’t going to do well around here. But saffron starts as a bulb and is pretty tough. Much of the world’s supply comes from places like Kashmir, which reportedly suffered severed damage to saffron production due to floods this year.

The Quebec saffron farm has a (French language) website Pursafran with more photos and info on their efforts. Saffron is famously associated with the yellow dish paella, but can also be used in many other recipes.

Actually, I did grow saffron from a few bulbs when I lived in Kars. It’s no harder than any other crocus. The hard part (for me) was remembering where I’d planted it and remembering to watch for the flowers and harvest the delicate stigma in the fall.

Having moved to North Gower, I can start that attempt again, if I mail order more bulbs and keep better track of where they are!

Harvesting saffron in Iran. Image:Safa.daneshvar reative Commons

Harvesting saffron in Iran. Image: Safa.daneshvar Creative Commons

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3 Comments on “Quebec farm tries exotic crop: saffron”

  1. Michael Greer says:

    We will try to grow some here in Potsdam too because well……we grow a bit of everything here. I think the photo above tells the true story of what the problem with commercial growing in Canada might be. Namely, that Canadian workers will expect to be paid more than workers in Kasmir. There are lots of things that one COULD grow here, (like opium poppies), and if only we could force children to work for 25 cents a day, we could make a profit.
    Keep plugging away at it though. The multinational corporations are moving in the direction of driving the middle class down, and in time, American (and Canadian) workers will be on par with those in places like Kasmir, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc.

  2. I grow saffron in New York’s Hudson Valley, why not Quebec? There are some amazing farms and produce grown in the Charlevoix region . . .

  3. I should know how to spell Charlevoir, Quebec. I’ve been there (especially eaten there) and written much about their 15 mile Farm-to-table life. My apologies!

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