A Kindred Spirit

It's rare that I encounter someone who shares my combined passions of preparing nutritious foods, gardening organically, and foraging for wild edibles. Last night I had the pleasure of not only meeting such a person, but hearing his presentation on "Eating Between the Rows for Nutrition and Sustainability" - a title which would get a yawn from many, but which grabbed my attention from the moment I read about the presentation in a local paper.

Jeff Ross is the Garden Manager at Blackberry Farm, an all-inclusive, all-exclusive luxury resort for those more rich and more famous than me, which is hidden away on 5000 acres about 90 minutes from where I live.  Unique to this resort is that fact that it is a working farm, with the products of its gardens, orchards, stocked waterways, pastures, chicken coops, and wild acreage being used fresh, dried, preserved, and otherwise in the resort food preparation. The website says "The passionate pursuit of our farm generates a range of heirloom produce from the garden, wild flower honey, farm-fresh eggs, and artisan cheeses from East Friesian sheep. Sustainably harvested ingredients are the essence of our celebrated Foothills Cuisine, and the Farmstead is the gathering place for people and products of the farm. While you are here, we encourage you to take part in the farm activities, which will increase your understanding and therefore appreciation of the relationship that we have to the land and to the food it provides us."  Jeff's business card lists his phone number at the "Garden Shed," which I suspect looks a lot different than the image those words conjure up! I'd love to visit it.

I was proud of myself during the lecture, in that I could identify most of the photos Jeff showed to illustrate the wild and cultivated nutritious foods he grows, harvests, gathers, loves to eat, and uses in cooking. One of my favorites he spoke of is wild Chickweed, which grows in abundance for me during the cool months. I love it raw; its taste reminds me of fresh corn on the cob. Here is info I gathered from a good online reference to wild harvesting food:


Scientific name: Stellaria media
What: leaves, stems
How: raw or cooked
Where: sunny, shady disturbed areas
When: winter, spring, summer
Nutritional Value: Rich in iron, potassium, other minerals, and vitamins A, D, B, C, and minerals
Dangers: Chickweed contain a small amount of saponins (soap-like) chemicals. Excessive quantities of it can cause stomach distress.

Chickweed sprouts were a common source of greens on early navy ships and helped prevent scurvy before the discovery of vitamin C. Their small amount of saponins help give dishes containing chickweed a creamy texture, especially when diced finely and simmered in pasta sauces. It's also tastes wonderful in pesto, salsas, and raw food/vegan "green drinks" as well as greatly increasing the nutritional value of these foods.


Jeff talked of some of my other favorites, like elderberry (medicinal against viruses), sumac (berries make a good lemonade), Jerusalem Artichokes (great raw or cooked), and garlic scapes (good lightly sauteed). He introduced me to gathering the young spring stem tips of hemlock trees (he says they are full of Vitamin C), using the stringy roots of onions to quick-fry into crunchy threads, eating the first green leaves which emerge in the daylily patch (an asparagus flavor, according to Jeff). He mentioned using parts of plants not normally harvested, as I have discovered and written about in this blog, such as all the green growth of English peas, leaves of sweet potato vines, and young flower bud clusters from mustard-family plants like kale and collards. And he psyched me up about planting field [aka crowder] peas, lovage, and sorghum in my garden in 2013, which should do well in our hot humid summer growing season. I'll also be on the lookout for lamb's quarters and purslane, both of which I think I've seen growing wild around my property, since he spoke so highly of their nutrient values and delicious tastes.

One cooking tip Jeff shared was his favorite way to prepare roasted fresh beets:
Harvest the whole beet, leaving about 1/2" stem. Wash, dry, and arrange in a baking pan. Cover totally with kosher salt, then roast at 400 degrees, probably about 1 hour. The salt seals in the moisture. Jeff says the salt will fall away as a big piece after the cooking is complete. The skins rub off easily when cooked. Sounds yummy to me, and I'll be sure to try it when I harvest the Bull's Blood beets currently growing in my winter garden.

Keep yourself open to trying new and unusual "green" foods, particularly those grown locally and organically, and I guarantee you'll discover delicious tastes you've never before experienced.