How do you get from invasive to sustainable? One way to remove undesirable plants and animals from the environment is to eat them.
The Fertile Earth Foundation, which supports sustainable living and sells worms and worm-related products, hosted a tasting of invasive species (reptile, fish, mammal, and plants) April 30, 2013, at The Palms Hotel & Spa on Miami Beach.
Attracting the most attention was a 12-foot python, an Asian serpent that has become established in the Everglades and is devouring native wildlife. Chef Kris Wessel of Florida Cookery smoked it and arranged what he didn’t cook into a coil topped by the creature’s open-mouthed, fangs-bared severed head.
Chef Wessel served curry braised python stuffed with corn cotija cheese and topped with a mango-and-greens salad. The smoked python, sprinkled on the salad, had the taste and mouth feel of a bacon-bits garnish.
An experienced local professional caught the Python. Chef Wessel obtained it through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Chef Julie Frans of Essencia Restaurant + Lounge at The Palms Hotel & Spa prepared two fish dishes: lionfish and snakehead fish. Lionfish is an Asian reef fish with poisonous spines that has colonized Atlantic and Caribbean reefs. Snakehead fish are native to Asia and Africa; of 35 species, at least four have been found in many U.S. states, including Florida.
Chef Frans prepared watermelon gazpacho with citrus-cured lionfish, and African adobo-rubbed snakehead fish with mango and avocado. Members of the South Florida Freedivers caught the fish. I liked both.
Chef Frans has a kitchen garden on the grounds of The Palms Hotel & Spa. Garden tours are available by appointment.
Chef Todd Erickson of Haven Restaurant and Lounge served wild boar carnitas tacos with charred tomatillo, and radish and cilantro onion salsa. Mule Creek Outfitters provided the wild boar
During colonial times, the Spanish carried wild hogs on their ships and set them free in Florida to be hunted as the need arose. Some still live in Myakka River State Park near Sarasota, where they may be seen on occasion. More often, one can see disturbed earth where they have been rooting in the woods.
Chef Amber Antonelli of The Naked Bite offered a vegan ceviche dish – local oyster mushroom coconut ceviche with roasted yam, cilantro turmeric sauce, and assorted greens.
Tina’s Pride and Paradise Farms supplied the chefs with fruit, mushrooms, and vegetables.
Whole Foods Market was an event sponsor.
Poison or pleasure?
The python and the vegan ceviche both included Brazilian pepper berries as part of the salad accompaniment. This was not a good idea. A misguided expert collected some dried red Brazilian pepper berries and gave them to the Fertile Earth Foundation’s guest chefs to use. Fortunately no one consumed a lot of them, and no children were present.
Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia), also called Christmas berry, Florida holly, and pepper tree, is in the poison ivy family. All parts of it – including the berries – are highly toxic to some allergic people. At least one attendee went home with an upset tummy.
Native to Brazil, where it grows as a small coastal shrub just above the high tide mark, Brazilian pepper grows to become a 30-foot-tall tree in Florida and chokes out other species to become a dense monoculture. Everglades National Park spent three decades figuring out how to remove it from an area near Royal Palm Hammock called the Hole in the Doughnut. A current removal effort is underway in Kennedy Park in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. Brazilian pepper is impossible to eradicate because birds eat the berries and spread the seeds, which readily take root.
The plant is featured in Plants Poisonous to People, a poster created by the late Dr. Julia F. Morton of the University of Miami that is a staple in hospital emergency rooms. Dr. Morton also wrote two books, Plants Poisonous to People in Florida and Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida. Both went through numerous editions, but may now be out of print. To find them, try Bookfinder.com.
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