Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Stopped to pick up some fresh Ontario strawberries, the first of the season - at least for me. Always prefer local berries. And especially when someone else has picked them for me. I am not a "pick your own" strawberry person.
Noticed this sign. I need one for our yard. Maybe in conjunction with the article I posted from Lancaster online. http://turfkinghamilton.blogspot.com/2010/05/forage-your-lawn-could-be-your-dinner.html
We have a good selection of weeds for your foraging pleasure.
By DAINA SAVAGE, Correspondent
In the span of 10 minutes, with a stroll around the Environmental Center at Lancaster County Central Park, naturalist Lisa Sanchez had the key ingredients for the day's meals.
The morning's harvest included a mess of dandelion greens and other lawn "weeds" for a salad; a bushel of nettles to make soup; and the invasive garlic mustard to use as a savory alternative to lettuce on sandwiches and a marinade for chicken. For additional flavor, Sanchez dug deep to get the pungent bulbs of wild onion and wild garlic, rather than just the sprigs.
As she collected the prolific greens, she couldn't help sampling along the way, offering tastes of minty ground ivy, sweet and lemony wood sorrel, and the difficult-to-place flavor of chickweed.
"I think it tastes the way the tassels on corn smell," she said, pegging it exactly.
The scariest sample: the tender raw tips of new nettles. Those who have accidentally brushed against this plant and experienced the sting from the formic acid-laden prickles can understand the hesitation.
But grasped at the tip and placed on the middle of the tongue before chewing, yields an exquisite fresh green taste that practically shouts springtime, leaving a lingering sensation that feels like your mouth is more awake and alive.
Sanchez savors the surprise of first-timers, knowing she's converted new foragers.
Everything old is new again
Spring foraging is nothing new. Those with Pennsylvania Dutch roots here know the delights of the first dandelions and fiddleheads of the season. But for many, the knowledge of how to pick and harvest the first greens of springtime hasn't been passed down through the generations.
"When I give talks at senior centers, the residents all love to remember how they would go out and collect these plants to eat and use for medicine," Sanchez said. "What I wonder is why did we stop doing this, why didn't we pass this knowledge on? Why did we consider this something that only poor people did when the food is so rich and abundant?"
When tomatoes and berries are available year-round in the supermarket, there is no anticipation for an emerging fresh harvest after a long winter.
A confluence of the locavore movement and economic necessity has rendered wild food foraging part of a hip resurgent movement.
"It's the ultimate 'Buy Fresh, Buy Local,' " Sanchez said. "It doesn't get any fresher or more local than your own backyard."
Foodies with sophisticated palates are demanding more unusual tastes, and wild foods deliver.
Plus the experience of a little hunting and gathering appeals to a primitive need.
"For me, the adventure of getting outside to get dinner instead of driving to the grocery store is why I do it," Sanchez said. "I get food picked at its peak flavor and I know it's safer than something that's been shipped in and touched and sneezed on by who knows how many other people."
The recent E. coli outbreak in lettuce just punctuates her point.
"It's just safer to eat salads out of my yard," she said.
In tough economic times, foraging for fresh food becomes more appealing.
"Gathering wild food, getting something wonderful for nothing, is one of life's greatest pleasures," writes Katie Letcher Lyle in "The Foraging Gourmet."
For those who love a great score at a yard sale or public auction, the thrill, and perhaps necessity, of gathering a basketful of greens for nothing makes the meal even sweeter.
"The last couple of years we've seen a lot more interest in learning self-sufficiency skills," Sanchez said. "Our classes that teach primitive skills like how to start a fire or how to build a shelter or how to survive in the woods are very popular."
For children raised on plastic-wrapped vegetables and fruit-flavored processed foods, the sense of wonder that the woods provide something edible never ceases to amaze Sanchez.
"They can't believe they can eat these plants," she said. "It gives them, and their parents, a new appreciation for what is growing in their own lawns."
Sanchez recalled an adult participant in one of her presentations fawning over the clump of flowering wild onions near the environmental center.
"She loved them and wanted to know where to buy them to plant in her own yard," Sanchez said. "I told her to stop mowing her lawn and she'd see she already had them."
Master forager Euell Gibbons, author of the seminal "Stalking the Wild Asparagus," promoted a movement of lawn eaters more than 40 years ago, advocating the abundance of nutrition just underfoot.
In his essay, "Just How Good Are Wild Foods," he wrote: "We spend millions on herbicides to kill the dandelions in our lawns, while we pay millions more for diet supplements to give ourselves the vitamins and minerals that dandelion could easily furnish."
Spring cleansing tonics?
For Sanchez, it's the health benefits that make foraging the most appealing.
"They're better for you than the vegetables in the grocery store," she said.
"Plants like dandelions also are great tonics, flushing the toxins out of your system while allowing your body to hold onto the potassium and vitamin A." Nettles are especially rich in iron and young ranunculus plants are a good source of vitamin C, she said.
Everything's better with batter
Our county fall fairs are famous for their abundance of fried vegetables. But in the springtime, the place to get a batter-dipped fix is at the county park. Sanchez's school group programs often have dandelion head poppers and chickweed funnel cakes on the menu.
"I like my greens just-picked-fresh from the woods, but coating them in batter really appeals to the kids," she said.
Baking spring greens in quiches and frittatas is an elegant option to share the harvest on brunch menus. Simply fry up some wild garlic and wild onion bulbs and then steam nettles or dandelion greens, substituting these wild foods for spinach or kale in a favorite recipe.
Before heading out to your yard or the woods to pick, do your homework. If you can't positively identify a plant, forage with someone who can.
"Please use a field guide," Sanchez said. "There are many look-alike plants that are not edible. If there's any question, don't try it."
Sanchez said naturalists at the park periodically offer programs to help novices gain confidence.
She also suggests all foragers start off the season slowly, tasting small amounts until the body is acclimated to the new food.
"As with all spring tonics that flush out the system, you may want to be prepared the first time you eat them and know where the bathrooms are," she said.
All foraged food should also be washed well before using.
Some plants, such as pokeweed, need special preparation like salt water soakings and boiling in two changes of water to be edible. Otherwise, the plant can be poisonous. (Pokeweed is not a plant for novice foragers.)
When foraging, be aware of your surroundings. Plants grown along the side of a road, next to a paint-peeling structure, or near a polluted stream should be avoided. And if you're foraging on public lands, ensure that the groundskeepers haven't treated the area with pesticides or herbicides.
To ensure a continuing harvest, leave plenty of plants to reproduce. "Except garlic mustard," Sanchez said. laughing. "Take all of that you want, and dig out the root too."
Edible wild greens to try
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Curly dock (Rumex crispus)
Fiddleheads (various fern species)
Lamb's quarters (Chenopdium)
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
Wild mustard (Brassica)
Wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta)
Wild greens recipes
Weedy Lawn Salad
Cream of Sorrel Soup