Photo Courtesy of AYankeeCat
Note the long red saffron stigmas coming off the centers
Saffron is the most expensive spice you can buy, costing thousands of dollars per pound (or several dollars for what would be half a teaspoonful), yet it is incredibly easy and cheap to grow your own. Saffron, the bright red-orange spice, is the dried stigmas of the fall Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) flower. It takes over 80,000 flowers to produce one pound of saffron, and it must be picked by hand. We tend to think of crocus as an early spring flower yet there are many that bloom in the fall, including Saffron Crocus. Without saffron, paella or curries wouldn't be the same.
Now is the time to order saffron crocus corms for fall shipping. (Just like some garlic varieties... they both become scarce if you wait until fall to order.) You can search the 'Net for good values; I found some for 32¢ each, buying 50 or more. 50 is just $16. And, they multiply!
Caveat: Always check any vendor in The Garden Watchdog, where companies are rated by actual customers relating their experiences. A company with a change in management can quickly go downhill... or uphill.
Saffron crocus are hardy in USDA Zone 6-8 in the South, and 6-9 in the West. Plant the corms 4" deep and 4" apart immediately when you receive them. They do best in full sun, and well-drained soil. If you have moles or voles, you might line the bed with hardware cloth. The flowers will appear about 4-6 weeks after planting, and last 2-3 weeks. Look for the stigmas after the morning dew has evaporated and the flowers are fully open. Carefully pluck the 3 red-orange stigmas, dry carefully and store in a small, airtight container. 25 corms will provide enough saffron for 2-3 tasty meals.
If you live in those zones above, you can leave the corms in the ground year 'round. Otherwise, plan to dig and store them before the ground freezes in winter. To make digging easier, plant them in small pots (and in a good soil mix) and place the pots about 2" below the soil surface so the pots don't show. After digging the corms, cover them with dry sawdust or peat moss and store in a cool(40-50ºF), dry area like a basement. Replant in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Don't water them (except rain) until leaves appear in fall.
About every 4-6 years you should divide and replant the corms after the foliage has faded in fall. Dividing will keep them from over-crowding which cuts down on flowering.
A word of advice: mark the area where they are planted, since most of the year it will look like a bare spot begging for a new plant. I learned that the hard way, and accidentally dug my corms 2 years in a row!
Buying and Using Saffron
If you buy some saffron to use until you have some of your own to harvest, avoid powdered saffron as it is often inferior and has turmeric added. Look for small vials or bottles containing just red stamens without the yellow filaments attached. They add nothing but weight and cost.
Steep the threads in a hot liquid like broth, water or milk depending on the recipe, for about 10 minutes before adding. Add the saffron/liquid early on in cooking or baking because it takes a while for the color and flavor to develop. Don't add saffron directly to hot oil; the flavors will evaporate quickly, and although the dish may smell wonderful, the flavor will be absent.
Saffron Bread in a Bread Machine
Great toasted with butter and honey!
1 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground saffron
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
3 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast
3/4 cup raisins
Mix saffron with 1/4 cup of the warmed milk. After 10 minutes, add to rest of the milk. Add all ingredients, except raisins, to the bread maker pan in the order listed (or as directed in your bread maker instructions).
Set bread maker to the regular setting and start. Add the raisins when the beeper sounds to add additional ingredients.