Foraging in the Side Yard
Besides gathering berries in field or forest, you can find wild foods closer to home. I suppose you might include the gathering of eggs from the chickens in the back yard under the category of foraging. They certainly were as local as you can get and totally natural. Grandma Vera Anderson occasionally came up with chamomile with which she made tea. I don’t know where she got that. There was an old apple tree in the back yard and I imagine she got some apple butter out of the apples. Although she grew nasturtiums, she did not garnish with the blossoms. And unlike the prior story, she didn’t put the grass in the pies.
But she did have a delicious way to get rid of weed–dandelions in particular. I loved grandma’s dandelion greens. Another sweet and sour dish, like her red pepper jam, this one cooked up in the trusty iron skillet in some bacon grease and sprinkled with vinegar and sugar. Here in Arizona, I don’t have dandelion greens growing in my desert yard. I tried buying them at a store and cooking them, but the mess I came up with was–a mess–a very BITTER mess. I figured they were not fresh enough–like the corn-picking method my Dad talked about here, you needed to go straight from the yard to the pan.
Since then, I learned from Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook: An Illustrated Guide to 70 Wild Plants–a great cookbook for all your foraging needs–that I should have boiled the greens twice before proceeding. (Note: My Wild Foods Book is the 1976 version, signed by the author in 1977. Three is a 1985 edition also, but both are out of print and available as used copies. Euell Gibbons was the other popular wild foods guide in the 70’s.) Here’s what grandma’s recipe would look like with Billy Joe’s suggestion.
Just like my discovery that the mushrooms that grandma stirred up in an iron skillet were high-priced gourmet items in restaurants, I was surprised to learn recently that the back-to-nature and locally-sourced-food movements have bred professional foragers. You can learn about them here. Maybe you’d like to shoot for that new profession?
Have you ever cooked dandelion greens? What is your recipe?