Well, the chickweed is back with a vengeance. I'm feeling the urge to make pesto again. Not so coincidentally, this month's Martha Stewart Living magazine contains a piece by yours truly on the edible qualities of a number of weeds.
Weeds? Why do we call them weeds? The definition of a weed would be a plant that has no particular use, that serves only to annoy us. Yet the common dandelion, while it may unhinge the homeowner in love with his perfect lawn, makes a dandy addition to a salad, or a side dish collected in a heap and braised. Purslane wants to drive us round the bend, poking its head out of every crack in the sidewalk. Yet, once you get past the slightly mucilagenous texture, purslane is full of nutrition, and you don't have to pay a cent for it.
Shades of Euell Gibbon! Is foraging making a comeback? Well, I don't see my neighbors rushing out to pick the dandelion greens that are just now emerging everywhere. It's a bit amusing to see those very dandelion greens selling in big bunches at the local Whole Foods, or the purslane being hawked at the farmers market. But it's true that many of these and other wild things are being cultivated for the more sophisticated markets. Look closely and you may find one of your favorite vendors selling the seeds. I planted an Italian variety of dandelion last year, and it produced like a champ.
The star of the show without a doubt is the wild leek, known hereabouts as ramps. Soon they will be popping up in forests all over the eastern half of the country. They, too, have started appearing in farmers markets and in white tablecloth restaurants. But no one has found a way to cultivate ramps--not yet. They're still a wild child, and there's so much picking going on, the national parks have had to ban foraging for ramps.
The Martha Stewart article includes a tantalizing recipe for rabbit with pappardelle, ramps and wild garlic. There's also an intriguing flatbread with sorrel pesto and "edible-weed salad." Again, what's with the "weed "? After doing a bit of research for the text, I was inspired to purchase some burdock seeds. And now I'm curious to know if lamb's quarters really taste like spinach.
It makes you want to carve out a day soon when you can just poke around the neighborhood for the proverbial free lunch.