Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sour Grass Soup?

OK, it happened like this: B. read an article about Sorrel Soup, by our local food and garden writer, Michele Anna Jordan, who is always eloquent and interesting. The description was so tantalizing he felt inspired to follow through, even though his left wrist is still in a cast and two fingers on the right hand are bandaged. Must be that irrepressible springtime energy that keeps manifesting itself in the midst of rain and fog and cold and chill.

There is wood sorrel growing wild by the back door and out near the garden, a definite sign of spring -- the first yellow blossoms opened this week in our yard. I've seen lots of them along the roads and in corners of neighbors' yards for several weeks now.

Wood sorrel is a common weed also known as oxalis. It is known to California children as sour grass (at least to the California children of my acquaintance). Just as we East coast children knew for certain -- as irrefutable childhood lore handed down from no one knows where -- that you could make sassafras tea from the root of the sassafras bush, West coast children know that you can chew on the stems of sour grass for a nice lemony, tangy treat. But soup from sour grass? That, we didn't know. However, as adults, we believe what we read in the newspaper or on the Internet.

Michele Anna Jordan used red-veined sorrel, a different plant entirely -- not in the oxalis family but a Rumex species related to Rhubard. However, a little bit of Web sleuthing revealed that wood sorrel is just fine for soup. Here's the money quote from an article on

"California children love to chew the stems of a yellow-flowered wood sorrel, which they call sour grass. According to Patience Gray, in her book Honey from a Weed, the French once considered oxalis the best sorrel for sorrel soup, or potage Germiny, which even today bears slivers of French sorrel in imitation of tiny wood sorrel stems, for the stems didn’t break down with pounding as the leaves did."

Even though B. didn't follow either of the published recipes, the end result was very like what Michele Anna Jordan described seeing in a scene set in a Paris restaurant in the TV miniseries of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited: "a pale green soup served in a wide pretty soup plate."

It was remarkably good -- no doubt helped along by mushroom broth, leeks, potatoes, and asparagus -- with just a touch of lemony tang. And, so it seems, humble backyard sour grass soup is actually the ancestor and inspiration for fancy French sorrel soup.

No comments: