Photo by Rainer Zenz/Wikimedia
To try saffron rice pudding, click here for the recipe.
Every fall at the Yale Farm we grow one of the world's most expensive crops. It's not the contraband you might think of when you imagine liberal-minded college kids on a farm but instead a prized spice: saffron. In medieval times, when saffron was favored as one of three major spices (along with ginger and black pepper), the demand for it sent legions of explorers around the globe and motivated world trade. The French couldn't get enough of it, the Spanish used the precious spice for paella, and Italians invented recipes for gold-tinted monkfish--all so they could take advantage of the unique color saffron imparts.
Saffron is harvested from crocus sativus.The saffron threads are the exaggerated sex organs of the plant. Most people know crocus as the long-awaited first sign of spring, but sativus is an outlier, a herald of fall. This variety is stunning in mid-October, well after other flowers have faded. Tufts of grass-like leaves poke out of the ground, followed by rounded purple blossoms. From a distance, the flower, breaking through fall's brown leaves, is identical to its spring-blooming relatives, which bloom out of winter's last snow.