Monday, January 18, 2010

Gathering Wild -- and Semi-Wild -- Greens

C. and I took a long walk today when the sun broke briefly through the lowering clouds. The gutters were running lavishly with rain water and some of it was pooling into the streets -- we haven't seen that for a while. It made me think of e. e. cummings: everything was "mud-lovely and puddle-wonderful." C. certainly thought so and sniffed his way though this damp world with doggy enthusiasm.

Rain is no deterrent for backyard excursions either. All things green and growing are a delight for the eye -- encrusted with sparkling droplets. Miner's lettuce (above) really shows up well in the gloomy light.

When I first came to California, lo these 45 years ago (!!!), one of the first bits of local lore I was entrusted with by the natives was familiarity with this charming little plant, favored during gold rush days by the miners who valued it for its Vitamin C, a remedy against scurvy. This is the perfect time to gather as much as can be eaten in fresh salads, while the leaves are still heart-shaped and tender. A basic California weed, it is showing up all over the back yard and, like the miners, we are glad to see it.

Another common weed is fennel -- its bright green feathers grace many a roadside in early, early spring and then mature into tall, fragrant poles topped with little round trays of white blossoms, followed eventually by the wonderful seeds. We have one large plant that has dug in next to the fence and comes back year after year. In fall I gather the seeds, and also the hollow poles to use as light plant supports. In spring the mother plant is surrounded by hundreds of tiny seedlings just right for perking up a salad.

Arugula has naturalized in our yard and comes up everywhere on its own. I planted some several years back and let it go to seed. Good move. Salads don't seem complete now without some of its dark leaves with their distinctive spicy, nutty flavor.

In the fall, after letting the tall seed stalks dry out, I merely pile them in a promising corner and wait for nature to take its course. It's only a few months until the new plants come bursting forth.

Parsley too has branched out on its own into a semi-wild state. It comes up wherever I pile the dry seed heads and also wherever seeds happen to fall by chance. I'm always being surprised by an unexpected volunteer. Just as salad doesn't seem complete without arugula, vegetable soup is not a true soup without some fresh parsley, just picked.

And parsley is the loophole ingredient for the 2010 Eat the Yard challenge. So far we haven't had to resort to the token sprig to meet the challenge of eating something from the yard every day:

January 11: vegetable soup (chard, kale, parsley) with garden salad
January 12: tacos with chopped garden lettuce and a squeeze of Meyer lemon in the guacamole (we forgot to add fresh cilantro!!)
January 13: garden salad
January 14: garden salad
January 15: garden salad
January 16: a squeeze of Meyer lemon on the store broccoli, garden salad
January 17: vegetable soup

Tonight, no salad unless I go pick right now, but there is a small bag of kale, chard, and parsley left over from last night's soup making. Maybe a side dish of greens?

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