Springtime means fresh Spring greens. And fresh Spring greens means FOOD!
I did make a smaller dish a few days earlier, but this is the first real, substantial, spring greens dish of the year, so I went all out and gathered a nice medley to mix and prepare for the family, and to share with you.
The following went into my Spring Greens medley.
(Click pictures to enlarge.)
Wintercress – Barbarea vulgaris, is a member of the Brassicaceae family.
Raw, they are a bit bitter and so-so. Cooked, they become absolutely mouthwatering. This was definitely the champion green of the dish. Everyone raved about it. It really does become a foundational green when boiled, but with a very delicate and delicious flavor.
Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata, is also a member of the Brassicaceae family.
Raw, they are a bit meh, in my opinion. Cooked they become less meh. Good, but not as good as Wintercress. The stems can be stout and a bit stringy as they grow, so take only the first few top inches of the stem. Unless of course you don’t mind the stringy aspect. It all cooks down fairly well when boiled for a few minutes.
This is the amount of Wintercress and Garlic Mustard I collected to use for the meal I made. A lovely mess of greens, isn’t it?
Wild Garlic – Allium Canadense.
I like to use the greens from these more than the bulbs. The bulbs will grow new greens, and I rotate the area I collect from so as to be sure to never over-harvest. As such I’ve maintained (and expanded) my patch of wild garlic exponentially over the past few years. All the garlic taste you love, with none of the commercial product’s signature ‘garlic breath’.
Dandelion – Taraxacum Officinale
What wild spring greens dinner would be perfect without a little bit of dandelion? I gathered a whole decent sized plant from the tip of the root up, and it was enough to impart it’s goodness to the whole dish. Every part of the plant was used and later chopped up. Leaves, buds, crown, and a tiny bit of the root. Delicious!
Thistle – Cirsium spp.
An ‘unknown’ but delicious thistle made it into my Spring Medley. I say unknown, although that’s really not the case. I’ve been eating it for over 30 years, and my father ate it for 50 years before that. I just don’t have the stupid Latin name for it pegged as of yet. More on that later.
So, the wifey and I took a nice little walk and collected these greens as we went. It’s mighty handy to carry a plastic grocery bag in your pocket, and a folding pocket knife. You never know when you are going to run into wild food that you want to bring home with you!
This is a picture of all the greens that went into the dish:
The greens (sans wild garlic) were boiled for a few minutes. I boiled them longer than I would have since they were a ‘mixed’ greens, and some were more bitter than others. Probably about 10 minutes, tops.
The garlic greens were chopped and sauteed first, and then the boiled greens were also chopped and sauteed in some olive oil, and given a dash of ancient sea salt and cracked black pepper. The meat was given identical seasoning in it’s own separate pan. The key here is to not overcook the meat, and to use a lid so that it comes out nice and tender.
I call this dish, ‘Brassica and Bambi’.
Delicious was not even the word for it. It has to be one of the top five meals that I’ve ever prepared, in any medium, wild food or otherwise. Mouth watering delicious. Almost better than sex, delicious. Yea, it was that good.
Total cost? About $1 worth of rice and 75 cents worth of salt, pepper, and olive oil. And that’s to feed three people. Otherwise, free. The bambi was donated by a friend specifically to give this dish a more ‘wild’ aspect. Thanks M!
For those who are interested, regarding the prior unknown thistle, read on. Otherwise, the article ends here. Thanks for reading!
When is it OK to eat an ‘unknown’ plant? When the only way that it’s unknown to you is that you don’t have it’s specifics tacked down, but in which there are no non-edible or toxic family members or toxic look-alikes. In other words, if the whole family of plants is ‘safe’, then it doesn’t really matter much, now does it?
I’m not ashamed to say I haven’t really cared enough to narrow this thistle down to a specific species. Mostly because I truly don’t care. Not even a little. It’s food. End of story. I have bull thistles in my yard (Cirsium vulgare.) This isn’t one of those. I originally thought that it could be a Cirsium edule, but those are supposed to be confined to the West Coast, and now that I’ve actually found pictures of what the leaves look like, they look nothing like Cirsium edule. Pictures of anything other than a bull thistle are very hard to come by. It could be what they call a ‘pasture thistle’, but the bottoms of the leaves aren’t silver, just kind of green and shiny. Oh well… It would be much easier to ID if it actually bloomed, but it’s kind of hard to tell when the idiot city comes along and mows them all to the ground before they have a chance to flower. (They tend to grow along the SIDES of the fields, not so much IN the fields proper, around where I live…) However, all true thistles are equally edible, and this is a true thistle. Beyond that, the specifics are strictly academic and don’t really interest me. That might be an odd statement for a forager to say, especially from one who is usually interested in the academic end of things, but it’s absolutely true.
Basically, I think we tend to over complicate things when it comes to foraging. As I’ve always said, the Indians didn’t differentiate between different edible plants of the same species unless there was a real need to do so. If it was edible, that was that. Maybe one was choice and one wasn’t, and they’d certainly have had a preference if that was the case. And they’d know if one was ‘toxic’ and to avoid that one.
But they would not have cared one whit to differentiate between thistles that were all equally edible, and in my experience, pretty much all taste quite similar.
So, who am I to do so? Unless something is going to damage me in some way, I don’t care about the useless nuances.
Let me give you a modern example:
Do you really give a rip about the differences between a Fiji, McIntosh, Granny Smith, Red or Golden Delicious apple at the store, other than perhaps the difference in taste? No, you don’t. You don’t give a rip about it’s Dead Latin hoity toity name. In fact, not one in a hundred thousand of you could tell me that apples are Malus and pears are Pyrus. You know it’s an apple, and all apples are edible, and that’s about as far as your caring goes.
Doesn’t sound so strange when you look at it from that point of view, now does it?
However, if anyone actually knows what this thistle is, I’m all ears. Or eyes, as it were.
(And I’m talking about actually KNOWS from hands on, REAL, personal knowledge and experience, not looking it up and best guessing using some friggin’ ‘key’ and saying… ‘Gee, I THINK it kind of looks like this one…)
So, if you’ve been eating this thistle, and know for sure what it is, send me a line. I suppose that finally knowing the official name for this thing would probably be better than calling it ‘unknown thistle’, as I tend to use it quite a bit, and it does grow quite prolifically around here.