Archive for Wild food

Wild broccoli: creasy greens flower buds.


When I was a tiny kid I used to love climbing around the hillside above our pasture looking for creasy greens in the early spring. 

I still love creasy greens.

Creasy greens are Barbarea verna, in the mustard family. They taste a little mustardy, a little sweet, a little bitter. Reminiscent of very young collards, but wilder. 

I like to pick them when they’re about to bloom, when they’re a lot like “wild broccoli” (or broccolini, rapini, broccoli raab, or whatever they’re calling it these days). 

Wander over old fields or woods edges, find creasy bunches that are about to bloom (here’s a picture), and pick the buds, plus a few inches of tender stem. Cook them any way you like, but I think they’re especially good in a frittata with some ramp greens, or green garlic.

Here’s how:

Pick creasy greens buds. Rinse if necessary.

Saute in fat of choice (schmalz, lard, butter, or olive oil) with some ramp greens, green garlic, or onions.

When cooked through, add a few eggs that are slightly beaten and seasoned to taste. (Remember, frittata should be mostly vegetables. You don’t want to use so much egg that you overwhelm the filling. Egg is there to hold it together. As the boy says, “Frittata is not an egg dish.”)

You can cook the frittata on top of the stove for a bit, then finish it under the broiler, or you can do it the Italian way: once it’s set well on the bottom, detach it and turn it over in the pan to finish cooking.

Either way, it’s rather tasty.

We had some the other day with cold baked potatoes and homemade ramp mayonnaise, and some spring greens. (The mayonnaise was good on everything, including the frittata. Eggs on eggs — it must be spring!)


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Spring supper, Appalachian style.

rampsandbeans.JPGThere’s nothing so West Virginian as ramps and beans. Especially with cornbread. And especially when all the ingredients come from your own land, or just down the road.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum) are the national food of West Virginia. The proper term for a serving of ramps is a “mess.” (As in this sentence, from my neighbor the other day: “I don’t dig too many ramps. I’ll have a few messes, but then I get tired of digging ’em.”)

People say ramps will make you stink, but that’s not necessarily so. Cooked ramps won’t give you any more odor than cooked garlic will. (The scent of a big mess of raw ramps, on the other hand, will come out on your skin the next day.)

Ramps have always been a backwoods thing, and fancy town people tend to be scared of them. I know someone who runs a nice restaurant not too far from here, and she tells me that when the place first opened, she naïvely put ramp quiche on the menu. She didn’t sell a single serving. (Customers recoiled in horror: “But I’ll stink!”) Now she’s wised up. She calls them “wild leeks” and they’re, ahem, wildly popular.

Now, non-Appalachian fancy people are all about ramps these days. They’re trendy in New York, where I’m told they go for $30 a pound. This is a worrying development, because ramps are not easily farmed, and they’re very vulnerable to depletion in their wild habitat. If you do harvest ramps, only pick where they’re very abundant, and only take one or two from each patch. If they aren’t super-abundant where you are, consider picking only leaves, or leaving the bottom quarter-inch of bulb in the ground to regenerate.

We’re lucky to have a big bag of ramps in the fridge right now, so we’ve been putting them in everything. (Eggs, soups, greens pizza, pesto — everything but ice cream. My sister pickled some and served them in Bloody Marys at Easter.) But ramps and beans are still my favorite. With cornbread. Southern, crispy-crumbly all-stoneground-corn cornbread. 

Make your own:

Soak and cook your beans. (I used tiger eye beans from last year’s garden, but ramps are good with any brown or white beans.) Salt them well. Set aside.

Clean ramps well. Chop, and saute in good local lard or bacon drippings. (Schmalz is good, too, if pigs aren’t your thing.) When the ramps are cooked to your liking, add the beans. Simmer a bit.

For the cornbread, heat your oven to 400F or so, and put a nice number 12 cast iron skillet in there to get hot (yeah, you can use any baking dish, but a good hot skillet makes it crispy like it should be). Make sure you have fresh, coarse stoneground cornmeal. (We’re lucky to be able to get old-time multicolored “bloody butcher” corn from a local miller.) Mix about 2 cups of cornmeal with a teaspoon of salt and a little less than a teaspoon soda. Add about a cup and a half of buttermilk or sour milk (yogurt works too), an egg, and a couple of tablespoons of melted fat (lard, bacon drippings, schmalz or butter). Mix it all up and bake it in the hot skillet for, oh, a half hour or so, or until it’s nice and brown. This is a really flexible recipe. You can mess with the ingredients a lot without much trouble. (The other night we were out of eggs, and the cornbread came out perfectly tasty without them.)


(We had some of last year’s hard cider with ours. A perfect meal!)

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Fall treasures: hickory nuts.


There was a lovely hickory harvest here this fall. We got almost a bushel. That’s very unusual in my experience — the squirrels usually get to them first.

I used to race the squirrels for them when I was little. Sometimes the little buggers would throw the nuts at me, and wouldn’t you know — the ones they threw were always wormy!

As you might have guessed, hickory nuts are my favorite nuts. They’re light and sweet and go well with most things.

We have a lot of nutcracking ahead of us.

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Eat your lawn: wild greens salad.


Why mow it when you can eat it?

Today I wandered around our yard with a basket and came back with a salad.

It had chickweed greens and flowers, dandelion greens, bittercress greens and flowers, creasy greens, violet leaves, and sorrel in it. Chickweed and violet are mild and moist, peppergrass and creasy greens are spicy with a hint of bitterness, dandelion leaves (before the flowers bloom) are pleasantly bitter, and sorrel is distinctly sour.

The boy thought it was too many flavors in one salad, but to me it just tasted like today: riotous spring!

Hint: If you want to encourage more edible (and medicinal) weeds in your yard, dig up a bit here and there. Lots of tasty plants like to grow on disturbed ground.

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Spring greens: peppergrass.

peppercress.JPGWild greens, anyone?

Early spring is the time to switch from sweet roots and spices to bittersharp new shoots and leaves. Time for cool air and new light after warm dark hibernation.

Peppergrass is one of my favorite spring greens. It’s also called “pepper cress” and “poor man’s pepper,” and it’s sprouting up all over my yard right now.

Young peppergrass leaves can be used anywhere you might use watercress. I like them mixed in scrambled eggs with a few wild onions. The flowers are tasty too (I saw one little plant blooming already) and the seeds can be sprinkled on food as a sharp, mustardy seasoning (“poor man’s pepper”).

UPDATE: I originally posted that this peppergrass was a Lepidium species. AnneTanne and Tammy pointed out that it looks a lot like Cardamine hirsuta. Now that I look at it, I’m convinced it’s a Cardamine, but I’m not sure which one (cresses are notoriously hard to identify). Calling it Lepidium was just lazy and spaced-out on my part — I do have a lot of Lepidiums in my yard, and I call them peppergrass too. So I had peppergrass = Lepidium in my head, and I didn’t bother to look it up. Live and learn.

(I grew up calling all peppery little cresses “peppergrass.” Perhaps I should teach myself some new common names to alleviate the species confusion? Alright. Cardamines are “bittercress” and Lepidiums are “peppercress.” Maybe I’ll try that. In any case, they’re all tasty in salad.)

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