Saturday, April 24, 2010
A SPRING WEED MEAL
Yesterday was sunny and dry again, and though the news said some planes were flying, we saw no sign of any. Lovely! Spring is very late this year, and we’ve had a long spell of lovely sunny weather, though often there is a chill breeze off the sea.
I went wandering around to enjoy the wonderful spring growth bursting forth everywhere. It all looked so temptingly succulent I went back to fetch a collecting basket and started picking. Nettles first, just the opening leaves at the top, I wore washing-up gloves not to get stung. Then lots of ramsons (wild garlic), it is getting close to flowering now, and the big leaves are getting coarser. I picked the young ones from the centre of the plants. They’re so abundant here I don’t have to be too careful.
All the time adding various odds and ends of edible leaves. The cow parsley is showing a few leaves in places. I only took one or two from each plant, ribwort plantain is beginning to grow, cleavers (goosegrass) is good to eat if cooked before it flowers. I read that recently in my new book “
I also read there that primrose leaves are good to eat too. I gather a few from the wild meadow and more from the garden, where I have scattered seeds from wild plants. Silverweed has just started coming into leaf, I took that from my little rock garden where it’s too abundant and would like to spread further if I gave it chance, so I was weeding at the same time. Sorrel too is a great addition to a weedy meal, it’s acidity adds a nice piquancy, and it’s nice leafy now before the flower stems start shooting, though that doesn’t stop using them through the summer too. Some young dandelions from the centre of the rosettes went in too.
Alexanders has been green all winter and always available, but I feel since the Romans were keen enough to bring it here with them it’s bitterness must have value, so I picked a generous handful of younger leaves, and noticed I had a flower bud too.
Then I went to boggy stream and picked a few water parsnip leaves, but they’re not big enough yet to be worthwhile, the same is true for the watercress. Both I gather regularly throughout the summer, but I always soak them for a while in salty water to get the tine snails (and any other creatures) to drop off, and cook them thoroughly for fear of liver fluke, as cattle graze there and drink from the stream.
I had a large mass of weeds to take home for supper, but they cook down to a much smaller amount, so you need a lot. I chopped all the weeds up, which takes ages, (I had a brief fantasy about food processors) and threw them in the pot as I did them. I tried to put those that take longest to cook in first. That’s plantain, nettles and any that have thick stems, though I cut off the thickest usually. I made sure the water weeds got well cooked too. The goosegrass and ramsons went in late on. I actually kept some of the ramsons back to add at the last minute because the garlicky flavour gets lost after just a little cooking.
I hadn’t put much water in the pot, and I tasted the dark liquor to decide what spicing I should add. None! The flavour was rich and almost meaty, it tasted better and as strong as any stock cube. Amazing! We had with some mealymeal (ground maize cooked to a porridge, the staple in southern Africa.)
A mass of cooked weeds like this can be used in many ways.More recipes tomorrow!