Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Writing About Edible Weeds for Martha

I've been meeting lately with our local schoolyard greening organization, planning an annual seminar to teach teachers about how to build and utilize school gardens. It takes me back to last year's event, when the menu for our garden lunch included a pesto dish made with chickweed out of my own garden.

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.


David Hall said...

wild leek and wild garlic - what more could a man want I ask?!? good work Ed.


eatclosetohome said...

Actually, lamb's quarters are far tastier than spinach, especially cooked. Cut the whole stem off; that will help keep it from going to seed, and it'll grow back bushier.

LimeSarah said...

Lamb's quarters do taste a lot like spinach -- they're perfect in light Asian soups, because they're more delicate and don't clump up like spinach sometimes does.

T said...

I agree--lamb's quarters are much nicer than spinach, and are delicious in scrambled eggs (and elsewhere)!

Melinda said...

Awesome, Ed - congratulations!

I know I should eat it, but I just can't bring myself to eat those darn purslane weeds. Weird how we have that stigma against other plants - they're just plants!

Pattie said...

Ed: Don't get me going on the lamb's quarters! It is the #1 thing my kids and I have missed this winter from our summer garden. Even more than the tomatoes.

Ed Bruske said...

David, we very much look forward to the wild leeks each spring. We have friends who bring them back from West Virginia, but we think we may have discovered a more local sources. Mum's the word.

All you lamb's quarters fans--who knew? I feel like I am the last person to get the memo on this important edible. And since it's free, growing all over the neighborhood, I will definitely be on the bandwagon this year.

Melinda, I think purslane is definitely an acquired taste. I love okra, but somehow I cannot get past the sliminess of cooked purslane. I much prefer it raw in a salad.

Riana Lagarde said...

ed-- thats fabulous on the article, wow, ms mpartha and all. i am impressed. i make chickweed pesto all the time for our family. grandpa thinks i'm nuts yanking it out of the garden corners and putting it into a bag to take home.