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Homestead Observations: Spring Foraging

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 April Issue Newsletter

Sharon Gensler NOFA/Mass Outreach Coordinator

Today as I write to you, gazing out thewindow overlooking the garden, things are still rather bleak. Though spring is in the air, I know it will be quite a while until this view is filled with the bounty of my dreams. Gratefully we have been eating our stored supplies and there is still plenty in the root cellar and pantry, but my mouth waters for really fresh nutritious spring greens. Thankfully, it is almost time to begin early foraging, to find good nourishment poking up and thriving before our tender domesticated vegetables are ready to eat.
 
Usually first to show themselves around here are the little garlic greens. I don’t know how it happens, but I always seem to have missed some bulbs during the last year’s harvest. Now they come up in clumps and won’t do much
heading up so it’s best to eat them when young and tender. Their companions are the perennial Egyptian walking onions. I use both in cooking as I would their mature
counterparts. The onions are especially good when abou 8 inches. I steam them like asparagus and they are tender, sweet and yummy.
 
Soon the true wild things like dandelion, winter cress, fiddle heads, lily sprouts, stinging nettles, baby comfrey leaves, violet flowers, and, let’s not forget, the ground nut tubers will begin to satisfy that fresh food craving. All parts of the dandelions are delicious. I used to just eat the tender leaves but after a friend sautéed up a batch of chopped leaves and roots, crowns, and even flower buds with onion and garlic, I was hooked. The winter cress is another favorite. Earlyleaves are great raw or steamed. When they shoot up, thesmall bud stalks/heads are good steamed or sautéed withonion and garlic.
 
When the daffodils under the pippin apple tree bloom, Iknow it’s time to take a trip down to the valley to collect fiddleheads along the river floodplain. Only collect the
ostrich fern heads when they are less than 6 inches high.These ferns are the ones that have large heads covered in a brown onionskin type wrapper. Clean all of the paper off,
otherwise they are bitter. Steam or boil for 10-15 minutes.
I like them with vinaigrette dressing. The lily sprouts and
baby comfrey leaves are best when about 6 inches and
are great lightly steamed. There are those who think I’m
crazy for eating the stinging nettles because well, they sting.
However, they are so nutritious and once steamed they do
not sting. Promise. Use gloves to harvest when young, again
under 6-8 inches, and steam until tender. I like them best
with the moisture squeezed out, chopped and tossed with a
toasted sesame seed and salt mixture.
 
Early non-greens are harder to come by. There’s always the
faithful Jerusalem artichoke and the groundnut, an earthy
tasting tuber, which can be eaten from thumb size up. Both
are good steamed or boiled until tender. Remember to clean
all of these thoroughly as a gritty fiddlehead or dandelion
dish won’t be fun.
 
Eat these in moderation. Many are diuretics, or have other
strong properties, which in excess take away from their
health giving properties. A good spring tonic of fresh wild
greens can’t be beat. Please consult a good book about wild
edibles (like Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants),
which will help you identify and prepare your own feasts.
So, I give thanks that they come freely every year with
little input from me. They pull me through until those first
domestics can be harvested and enjoyed. However, I don’t
stop foraging even when the garden is abundant-- can’t beat
those lamb’s quarters, pig weed, and..... Happy Foraging!
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