The Crescent City Farmers Market's own swamp denizens, Geannie and Joey Fonseca, will be selling samples of the seeds and pods of the American Lotus, or, in Cajun French, the "Graine à Voler:" the seed that flies.
Biologists call it Nelumbo lutea; indeed, a total of 37 different names have been recorded for this plant in different parts of the country. Geannie assures, despite all the names, "once you've seen the plant, it's hard to mistake it."
Each yellow and white flower sticks up above water on a long stem, and can be as big as a dinner plate. Its lily pad-like leaves (impress your friends - the difference is that there is no split in the leaf!) can each be over two feet across and float on the water or stick up on a stem above the water. The flower blooms for a couple of days after insects fertilize it. After the petals fall off, a hard, oval-shaped seed pod containing a couple dozen seeds is left. The seedpod eventually shoots the seeds into the air. Each seed has a very tough shell on it and seeds up to 400 years old have been sprouted!
While the Fonsecas and other cajuns eat the seeds today as a treat, the early Native Americans of the bayou, the Houma and the Choctaw, relied upon them as an important food source. They ate almost every part of the plant, including the roots.
They are relatively easy to harvest, growing as they do in the shallow still waters of the bayou. The roots form thick banana shaped tubers that taste something like sweet potatoes. The Native Americans would wade barefoot in the mud to find the tubers and then pull them up with a hooked stick. The Fonsecas pick them up out of their little pirogue, in the Des Allemands swamps.
Look for Geannie's stand on Tuesday or Saturday and for a picturiffic joyride contact Joey Fonseca at 985-758-7454. Gasoline consideration and tips are accepted to help defray the cost. Mandatory: extra role of film!
Market Umbrella is an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3), based in New Orleans, whose mission is to cultivate the field of public markets for public good. Market Umbrella has operated the Crescent City Farmers Markets (CCFM) since 1995.
The Crescent City Farmers Market operates weekly year-round in four New Orleans neighborhoods. The CCFM hosts nearly 80 local small farmers, fishers and food producers, and more than 100,000 shoppers annually.