Cocoyam Recipes – Winter Open Day At Bellis, 2014

If you attended this winter open day, congratulations, you were part of gardening history.

A record breaking number of guests – 3,229 – visited Brisbane’s thrifty sustainable house and garden. And what a jolly, generous, patient and enthusiastic bunch you proved to be. The very best Queensland has to offer.

Best of all, there were more young gardeners (under 18) than have attended any previous Open Gardens Australia event since this community charity was established in 1987: go Queensland!

Those budding gardeners didn’t come alone, they brought their families with them. We are witnessing a revival of home grown food culture and a resurgence of families who garden together for fun and good health. This is how I came into life – I was born into an English/ Irish/ Welsh family of gardeners and fruit farmers – and we gardened, made jam, gathered sweet chestnuts, seaweed, we rambled, picnicked, picked fruit and had gardening excursions throughout my childhood.

I’m still re-organising my garden. Yesterday I raked the bark mulch off the guinea pigs pasture and today my potted plants go back to the nursery, so I’m leaving you with a photo gallery from the weekend.

For one day I got to be my Great Grandad, market gardener and green grocer. I think William Coleby would have been bemused seeing me digging up and flogging my cocoyams and perennial, subtropical leeks.

The weather was warm enough for both species of stingless bees to be actively pollinating, and the guinea pigs loved the endless offerings of salad vegetables.

The cold snap on 2nd July, the coldest Brisbane night since 1911 (2.5C here at Bellis) scarred many plants from cassava and Moroccan mint to Cranberry hibiscus. That night I lost half of my Cranberry hibiscus cuttings and 300  pawpaw seedlings. But at least I had 118 different edible things on my menu to show.

My special thanks to Di and John McRae; Liz White, CEO of OGA from Melbourne;  Jo Hammond, of Butterfly Host Plants and member, Logan Food Growers, and all of you, Queensland’s finest, jolliest gardeners.

Thanks for your friendship.


Cocoyam, an under-utilised economic crop

I was overwhelmed by the interest in cocoyams (Xanthosoma saggitifolia), my trusty, water-wise relative of taro which provides an abundance of low GI (Glycaemic Index) starch.

If you have one, just remember they love compost rich soil, a leafy layer of mulch, and a once weekly watering in dry weather once they have established. I mulch mine every season using spent crops, lawn clippings, manure or sawdust and bedding from the guinea pigs’ hutch, and I cover this over with a thin layer of sugarcane. Give cocoyams a boost with some poultry manure during summer and autumn, the two seasons when they bulk up their starchy stems and underground cormlets.

If your plants wilt (and they might, as I supplied them bare-rooted), trim off the leaves and let them sprout new ones as they re-establish their shallow root systems.

Cocoyams prefer 4-6 hours sunshine and shelter from winter winds. If grown in full sun in an exposed position, they need regular access to water. That’s why I planted mine in a south-easterly facing position where they are protected by fencing and the neighbouring house.

Please remember to boil new leaves for 10-15 minutes before eating them, this neutralises irritating crystals in their sap. The baby cormlets (formed out of the main stem and around the base) are boiled for about 5 minutes – these are the equivalent of new (baby) potatoes. I peel the main stems with a knife, dice the stem and boil them for 15 – 20 minutes before mashing or pureeing them.

I use the leaves in curries, pancakes and chapattis. The starch from the main stem can be cooked and used as a substitute for mashed or boiled potato and a hearty soup for winter.

On the 19th August I’m attending the launch of the Epicurious garden at South Bank. This is planned to be a dynamic kitchen garden growing decorative edibles. The garden will even feature Cranberry hibiscus and cocoyam, two favourites, and the website will share recipes including these from my kitchen:

Cocoyam chapattis

250g tender, young cocoyam leaves;
2-3 cups organic wholemeal or plain white flour;
1/2 tsp ground cumin;
1/4 cup chopped coriander leaf or 1/2 tsp ground coriander seed;
1/2 chopped chilli (optional);
1 tsp fresh, chopped ginger;
1 tbsp sunflower oil
 for frying;

Wash fresh ingredients.

Remove the leaf stalk from the cocoyam leaves.

Chop into pieces the size of a fifty cent coin. Boil in water for ten to fifteen minutes. Drain excess liquid through a colander.

Place cocoyam in a large mixing bowl, add half a cup of flour and mix by hand into a dough.

Add rest of flour and spices and mix by hand to complete the dough. Cover bowl with a damp tea towel and allow dough to rest for half an hour.

Divide dough into balls the size of a small egg, sprinkle some flour onto a flat surface then roll them out. They should be thin and just fit inside a large frying pan.

Heat oil in a frying pan and fry until browned on both sides.

Serves 3-4, takes an hour (harvesting time not included).

NOTE: In summer, you can also substitute the cocoyam leaves with tender young Cranberry hibiscus leaves (Hibiscus acetosella).

Cocoyam soup


100g spring onions (or leek). Include the leaves;
200g tomatoes;
50g chervil (or parsley or coriander for garnish);
1 tin coconut milk;
25-50g fresh chilli (3 medium-hot or 2 hot chillies);
50g garlic chives or society garlic (or garlic);
300g peeled, diced cocoyam stem or cormlets;
two vegetarian stock cubes;
Olive oil (or mustard seed oil) and one tsp sesame oil for frying;


I prefer to use a blender because it produces a creamy soup.

Wash fresh ingredients.

Use a knife to peel and dice cocoyam as if making potato salad. Simmer until soft (15-20 mins) in a large saucepan.

Finely chop spring onions, garlic chives and chilli. Add both oils to a frying pan, heat, then lightly fry.

Chop up tomatoes, add to frying pan, cover, simmer gently for five minutes, stirring every minute.

In a blender, liquidise fried vegetables. Add coconut milk, stock cubes, blend.

Gradually add and blend in cocoyam.

Pour into the large saucepan, return to gentle heat, adding water as necessary to make a soup of your preferred consistency.

Serve garnished with chervil and crusty bread rolls, or with cocoyam chapattis.

Serves 3-4, takes an hour (digging time not included).

Papua New Guinean Cocoyam Soup recipe
(courtesy of a Facebook friend)

Choose tender, young cocoyam cormlets, stems and young leaves.

Wash stems, then peel. Cut cormlets into halves, dice the stems to bite size, and slice up the leaves.

Par boil them, then drain and discard the cooking water. Rinse in clean water. [NOTE: old stems have a much longer cooking time than cormlets, so I  cook them separately. Leaves and cormlets can be cooked together. Jerry]

Sauté chopped garlic, ginger and onion with little vegetable oil until fragrant.

Papuans love pork and chicken, so for an authentic meal, now is the time to add some sliced meat of your choice. [Diced Tempeh is an appropriate vegan alternative. Jerry]

Add the cocoyam stems and cormlets. Add water to create your preferred volume of soup you desire. Simmer and stir until   the meat and cocoyam are tender.

Add the blanched cocoyam leaves. Season with salt and pepper [or a vegetable stock cub or Tamari sauce. Jerry].

Serve with steamed rice or boiled yam.

Variations: some cooks like to add small amount of oyster sauce and fresh chillies. Others add ground turmeric and substitute coconut milk instead of water.

Cranberry hibiscus tea

Hibiscus acetosella


Hibiscus flowers;
Fresh Tahitian lime;
Honey (sugarbag honey tastes divine!)


Wash hibiscus flowers.

Add one flower per cup of tea into teapot.

Add measured amount of boiling water.

Steep for 5 minutes.

Pour into cups and add lime juice to each cup to taste.

When you’re familiar with blending you can add the juice to the teapot before serving – works best in a glass teapot. Why? Lime juice adds more than a delicious flavour, the acid clears the greyish colour of the hibiscus tea into a bright, appealing cranberry pink.

Sweeten with honey to taste.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
Director, Seed Savers’ Network;
Patron, Householder’s Options for Protecting the Environment;
Queensland Presenter, ABC ‘Gardening Australia’ show;
Sunday Presenter, 4BC Radio ‘Talking Gardening’ programme;
Member, Horticultural Media Association;
12th August 2014



5 Comments Add yours

  1. John says:

    It was an amazing experience to not only visit your beautiful paradise Jerry but also to witness the amount of people that turned up.
    It gives me confidence that there are plenty of ‘gardeners & earth cares’ around.

    Hey I’m trying to source the Burnt jelly plant (Bulbine fruticosa) you have planted extemsivly out the front and in small places elsewhere but can’t find it. Do you know of a seller? Or you you be willing to sell a few cuttings?

    All the best and thanks for your insipiring ‘experiment’ 🙂

  2. Pat P says:

    My beloved and I finally made the pilgrimage to Bellis this year. What an experience! So very many people in so small a space was my first reaction. I certainly would not be happy with that many people in my space – it must take ages for the garden to ‘get over’ such an impact. So very brave and generous of you to open your life and garden up like that. But that generosity is evident in the way you garden too.
    My ‘take away message’ was be more generous with my garden – to plant and sow seed more closely, to fertilise more generously. I have many times more space in my garden than you but get far less in terms of produce for my efforts. Clearly, I need to re-evaluate just how I use the space I have.
    Thank you for so much food for thought and inspiration to do something different in my own spaces.

    1. Saving your own seed provides confidence. If I can save thousands of seed from a few plants, I can sow thousands. I can grow drifts of vegetables in a good season. Who cares if I lose a few hundred lettuce to snails in the process? It costs nothing.

  3. Pam Collins says:

    2013 I visited your garden and purchased a Chocolate Sapota. Sorry re spelling. Its growing well, when might I expect flowers and fruit. Was it grown from seed as I”ve heard they might not fruit. Thanks Jerry. Pam C

    1. Dear Pam,
      You have a seedling, as we mentioned on Gardening Australia with John Piconi in NSW, they fruit around 5 years old

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.