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Eating away at a problem

in Featured/Potato Potato by

Around the time dandelions began taking over my backyard, I noticed an interesting plant growing suspiciously quickly at the front of the house. I also spotted it by the side of the road around my town, by the side of the highway and, before long, pointing it out to my partner had become a reflex. “Oh look!” I’d exclaim pointing out the car window, “It’s over here too!” It turns out that my yard, and countless other yards on the Avalon, have been invaded by Japanese Knotweed.

Japanese what-now?

Like the moose in Newfoundland, Japanese Knotweed was intentionally brought into foreign environments where, with no natural predators to inhibit its growth, it took over in a big way. Originally, its rapid growth and ability to provide shade and prevent erosion in sandy areas were touted as reasons to import the ornamental plant. It was only around 1900, almost 50 years after it was imported to the U.K., that people got savvy to its downsides. That’s also around the time it made its way to Canada. The plant’s biological success rests on its ability to grow practically anywhere, and on its resilience – it is difficult to eradicate knotweed without removing its entire root system (which can be 3 metres deep), and clippings will take root if tossed carelessly into a yard.

The construction business has been sounding the alarm about knotweed for a while now, since its roots can penetrate concrete, asphalt and building foundations. Attempts to control the plant chemically have not been successful – several coatings are often necessary and raises concerns about health and safety. Until a more effective (and safe) method of removal is developed, the best we can do is limit its further spread. But if it’s already in your yard? I’ve come upon one way to manage the growth in my own yard, although it in no way eradicates the problem. So what do you do when an alien species eats into your yard space?

Bite back!

Amongst the many negatives of Japanese Knotweed’s invasion is at least one positive – this plant is edible! In my attempts to figure out what had taken over my yard, I discovered that not only is it edible, a lot of people around the world have been eating it. Like rhubarb, it can go sweet or savoury, so I decided to make a variation on my favourite summer pie. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Strawberry-Knotweed Pie:

I’m not a seasoned pastry chef so I followed the pastry shell recipe from The Fat Duck Cookbook exactly. You can use your go-to recipe for the shell.

The filling was a bit more complicated. Since I had never cooked with or eaten Knotweed before, some experimentation was in order. Raw, the plant tastes very sour, so I increased the ratio of strawberries to knotweed.

Ingredients:

Photo by Genevieve Brouillette.
Pie filling. Photo by Genevieve Brouillette.

4 cups strawberries, halved (quartered if they’re the humungous kind)

2 cups Knotweed stalks, peeled and chopped into ¾ inch pieces*

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup light brown sugar, packed

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp corn starch

1.5 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp lemon juice

¼ tsp salt

1 egg yolk, beaten with a small splash of water

3-4 tbsp large-grain sugar

Directions:

– Prepare pie shell and set in fridge for several hours to a day

– Preheat oven to 400

– In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, Knotweed, granulated and brown sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, lemon juice, and salt, and mix gently until evenly distributed.

– Roll out half the pastry and line your pie pan with it

– Spoon the filling into the crust

– Roll out the rest of the pastry, place it over the shell and pinch the two layers together all around the pie plate. Cut off any excess pastry. Cut a small hole in the middle, and some slits on the top to allow steam to escape

-For the glaze, brush the egg yolk on the top shell, then sprinkled some large-grain sugar over it.

Ta da! Photo by Genevieve Brouillette.
Ta da! Photo by Genevieve Brouillette.

– Bake at 400 for 15 minutes

– Turn the oven down to 350 and bake for another hour and 15 minutes. The crust should be golden brown, and the filling bubbling out through the steam holes. If the crust is browning too much, place tinfoil around the edges.

– Allow pie to cool for 10 – 15 minutes before serving

*I made this mistake so you don’t have to: the very young stalks and certain parts of the taller stalks are quite woody and do not adequately soften with cooking. You should be able to slice through the peeled Knotweed pretty easily, and should discard the rest. Also – because the stalks hold water – I found it helpful to slice them lengthwise first to let the liquid out.

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