Since he was a young man, David Firman has had a pollen service for farmers. “My grandmother taught me how to collect the pollen. I started working with her when she was 81 and I was 22,” David says. ”And when I was 30, I started my own business.”
Collecting the pollen is one thing, getting it distributed onto the plants the farmer wants pollinated is another. If they are able to use bees, David and his crew have to suit up to protect themselves against bee stings. “We put a little tray of pollen in front of the hive that the bees have to crawl over to get out. The pollen sticks to their legs, and when they land on a blossom it rubs off. Farmers use our pollination service to have more control over pollination and to get optimal fruit set.”
In an August 1999 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, David read an article by esteemed food writer Peggy Knickerbocker regarding fennel pollen. “She had just been traveling in Tuscany, and had tasted fennel pollen in the cooking there. She was so enthusiastic about the taste, that it piqued my interest.”
Since David already had a lot of experience with pollen, he just took off for the California coast to pick fennel pollen by hand. He tried cooking with it and like the results. Saveur magazine published an article David wrote. He learned of Chef Mario Batali’s interest in fennel pollen. “He used it with goat cheese tortellini,” David explains.
So David contacted “wildcrafters,” people who collect wild foods. “They mostly work with mushrooms, so it was a good fit for them to add my fennel pollen to their distribution network. It also worked with the pollen service I already had, since fruit pollination takes place in the spring. Summertime is off-season, so now we collect fennel pollen.”
Interested in expanding the uses of his fennel pollen, David worked with Bernard Guillas, Executive Chef at the Marine Room in La Jolla, California. “Chef Guillas developed a line of spice blends, based on fennel pollen, that home chefs can use to turn foods into extraordinary gourmet dishes, by simply sprinkling it on. Our blends are unique because we use such unusual ingredients, such as sour plum powder.”
Now David is also collecting dill pollen. “It’s equally as tasty and unique as fennel pollen.”
“Fennel pollen has a beautiful flavor,” David says. “Herbaceous, with a little note that I describe as curry. It’s a lighter flavor than fennel seed. The pollen is more aromatic with a floral aroma and sweetness. When you add it to food, you can’t separate out the fennel pollen flavor; it just brings all the flavors of the dish together beautifully.”