Want to Try Fennel Pollen? Pick Your Own

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Holly A. Heyser


Fennel is a friend of mine. I've grown it every year I've been a gardener, and, much to my amazement when I first moved west, the plant grows wild all over California. It's a weed. A delicious, anise-flavored weed.

Fennel bulbs can be grown all year long here, and if you let the plant get established, it will become a perennial in your garden; my fennel patch is four years old. Every summer it flowers and sets seed, and afterwards I cut it to the ground. Then, sure enough, a few weeks later, the plant begins to grow anew. By Christmas I have bulbs again.

High summer is a busy time if you are into fennel because the plant is setting seeds and is in full flower. Lots of people collect the dried seeds in late summer, but I prefer the fresh, green seeds, which are juicy and taste like anise candy. They are a powerful highlight in any dish, and unlike the dried seeds, they won't get stuck in your teeth.

As for the flowers, flowers mean pollen. Fennel pollen. It's a trendy ingredient now, and you can see it all over the place in high-end restaurants, especially Italian ones; fennel pollen is used a lot in Tuscany. The pollen is often frightfully expensive, although my friend Scott over at Sausage Debauchery tells me he got a good deal from an Italian producer and is selling wild Italian fennel pollen at a lower price than I've ever seen online before.

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Holly A. Heyser

But, if you live in on the West Coast, you can gather fennel pollen yourself. There are two ways to do it, and each has advantages. The easiest way is to gather lots of fennel flower clusters and put them in a paper bag, tying the bag closed and the stalks together. You then hang this somewhere and as the flowers dry, the pollen drops into the bag.

The plus side of this method is that you don't have too much work to do. The down side is that you get dried pollen, which is wonderful stuff ... but not nearly as wonderful as fresh pollen.

You collect fresh fennel pollen by going to each flower head and shaking it into a bag, dislodging the pollen, which will be a lovely, creamy yellow.

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Holly A. Heyser

It's not easy to collect a lot of fennel pollen, no matter which method you use. Each flower head will only have about a quarter teaspoon of it at the most. The photo to the left shows what you get from one good flower head.

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Holly A. Heyser

There is a reason why fennel pollen isn't cheap. It is easy to gather, but because each flower yields so little pollen, it can take an hour of gathering to collect an ounce. You'll also get all sorts of creepy crawlies in the pollen, which need to be evicted before you can store it. A few seconds in the microwave kills anything too small to see.

Presented by

Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.

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