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Take a Walk on the Wild Side June 2, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, random stuff, Rochester.
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I’ve mentioned how I spent my teenage years on a family farm, right?  And how I was an ag major in high school?

Besides the livestock – the dumber-than-dirt turkeys, smelly chickens, cute pigs, and friendly beef and dairy cattle – there was a little more to it than gathering eggs and slopping hogs.

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No, I’m not talking about barn-cleaning – I’ll leave that to your imagination.

I’m recalling some of the field work we used to do – not just at home, but in school, too.

Why, do you know that, every spring, my “ag class” consisted of the entire class on a wagon, being hauled by a tractor, to the “ag field” where we spent what was left of the the class period picking rocks.

That’s right.  Someone from another class (presumably) had already plowed the field, and the rest of the agriculture students got to load that big old wagon with rocks (big and small) for half an hour or so, clamber back up onto the wagon, and head for math or English class.

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You know what we’d frequently find in and around the fields?

(Besides rocks, that is.)

Weeds.  Lots and lots of weeds.  I mean, sure, they were fairly harmless (unless, of course, you, ahem, suffered from hay fever) – after all, future farmers or not, this was a classroom full of high school students!  It just wouldn’t do to have a class or three break out with poison ivy or something, would it?

That was about the time I made the acquaintance of stinging nettles – most of the kids knew to avoid them, but me, well, I’d recently relocated from a Midwestern suburb and hadn’t grown up working the fields.  I know better now, though!

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Last spring, one of the public market vendors was offering “nettles” as cooking greens,  and I asked about them, and yes, he assured me, they were, in fact, what I knew as stinging nettles, and yes, you really can eat them.

And I said “huh” and “um, not today, thanks” and went on my merry way.  I had learned my lesson well enough 30 years ago!

PhotobucketAnd then I kind of regretted it.

I mean, obviously, the vendors aren’t going to be selling something inedible – if they were, they certainly wouldn’t be vendors long, would they?

And I’d already kind of resolved that my trips to the market should be for more than just picking up onions and carrots – the public market is a place where I not only have the chance to buy produce that you don’t often see in stores – like ramps, garlic scapes, fiddleheads, fresh fava beans, and mom-shelled lima beans, to name a few – I can also talk right to vendor-farmer-forager and learn about just what I’m buying and what to do with it.  Plus, if I don’t like it, I’m only out a couple of bucks.

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So this year, once I  saw the nettles at the stand, I was all over them.

And by all over them, I mean I made it a point to stop and buy them – at no time did I actually handle them.  The vendor was emphatic on that point – be very careful, and don’t handle them without gloves on.

Then he explained that, by holding the greens by the stem end (with a gloved hand), I should blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes – as the stems wilt, I can lower them farther into the water until they’re submerged, and thus deactivate the “sting” in the nettles..

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Once I got the weeds blanched, I wondered about what to do with them.  (Besides touch them with my bare hands, that is – look, ma, no rash!)  

Soup?  Nah.  Boring.

Saute them?  More boring.

I tasted a leaf or two, and, to be honest, it was nothing weird or strange or exotic.  It tasted kind of like spinach, sort of, only more green.   More wild-tasting.  So I fell back to my default “what shall I do with this” position and decided to throw it on my Friday night pizza – that works out for so many things!  Chopped spinach (and other greens) are always welcome on my pizza, and I’d read some mighty nice things about wild nettle and pecorino cheese pizza.

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A simple matter of Peeps’s lovely crust with a coating of olive oil, a bit of leftover ricotta, a goodly handful of blanched, then chopped, no-longer-stinging nettles, and some romano and a bit of mozzarella (for meltiness – I’m a fan of meltiness in pizza, aren’t you?) – and honestly?

This pizza was not half bad.  In fact, it was mighty good.  A few minor tweeks (more greens, for one), and I think I’ll be ready for next spring’s nettle season!  Plus, I stashed enough nettles in the freezer for one more pizza night, so . . .

So have you ever tried something new and been surprised by just how good it was?

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Comments

1. Bee - June 2, 2011

Wow!!! What in intriguing and memorable post! “Picking Rocks”. Yup, done that! Did you ever “Walk Beans”, too? Oh, the joys of growing up on a farm. 🙂 My Grandparents were immigrants from Finland/Sweden so we ate EVERYTHING: ramps, nettles, purslane, fiddleheads, morels, every berry possible. Made Birch Beer (like root beer, only better) and Spruce tip tea. Thanks to them, I grew up with a very adventurous palate! Try purslane next time at the market; it’s delish.

Bee, when is purslane in season? Is that a spring thing, or later in the summer? I think I’ve seen it in the past, but I can’t remember exactly when. 😕

(BTW, my great-grandparents on my father’s side came from Sweden – Grandma’s family via Canada and Grandpa’s came directly to the US – they all ended up in California, at least until Grandma and Grandpa went to Chicago, and now, here my family is, in upstate NY.)

Bee - June 3, 2011

LOVED the background on your grandparents migration to the states. 🙂 Purslane normally becomes available in “High Summer”: you know…hot, icky, stupid hot weather. It’s a very, very low growing annual that loves gravely, poor soil in full sun. In the Midwest it’s EVERYWHERE in those conditions.

I remember when I was the horticulturist for a 150 acre golf course and I sent my crew out to weed the flower beds. The 17 men came back with 20 plastic grocery bags of purslane in them, and you’d think they struck GOLD!!! They were laughing like crazy that the “dumb White folks” were paying them to “pick their lunch” by picking bags of purslane! LOL They called it “Mexican Spinach” and ate off of that cache for days! You saute it and they used it in all of their traditional dishes. We had flower beds surrounding the Olympic-sized swimming pool and the purslane grew so thickly in the beds, it looked like we planted it as a ground cover!!! Now, at my cottage, whenever I see it take hold, I know that dinner is on the table.

2. anne - June 2, 2011

You are a very brave woman. I’m pretty sure that I could not consume any plant that had, at one time, injured me or caused a rash. No matter how sincere the vendor, I couldn’t do it.

I’ll have to stick with spinach.

Remember, Anne, it did take me a whole year to actually work up the guts to try it, though. 😉


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