Nobody is suggesting you give up on the supermarket, or that you subsist on what your lawnmower spits out each week.But there is, after all, all that food out there where you are basking and jogging and cycling. Even if you aren't so practiced that you can gather enough for super, a handful here and there can introduce your taste buds to something new.
Take it slowly. Years of adjusting to iceberg lettuce can't be wiped out in a day. Wild greens are stronger and often more bitter than cultivated varieties. They are richer in mineral salts and fiber. They may be an acquired (or reacquired) taste. And even if you are ready to have your palate re-educated to a little wildness, some wild edibles are slightly purgative, so start with small quantities. Start out with snippets in your soups or sald. Don't gather food from polluted streams, and in any case, wash your gleanings carefully. Never eat anything you have not clearly identified.Euell Gibbons' books can help, or glance through a pretty new book full of history, folklore and practical advice, A City Herbal by Maida Silverman (Knopf, $10).
Here are some recipes using ingredients you might find underfoot if you stop and look. Sassafras
It does the sassafras tree no harm to dig up parts of its roots, as it shoots out new growth readily. Often mitten-shaped, the leaves on this shrub-like tree can also be oval.
In any case, the backs of the leaves are like felt. The tree grows in thickets and dry woods. The roots are popularly used for root beer or tea the leaves powdered and dried for file, the thickener used in gumbo.
Sapling roots are the easiest to gather. Do not remove bark, but scrub well. Put a handful of roots in a pot of water and boil for half an hour or until water is dark red. sweeten with honey or sugar.After use, the roots may be reboiled or dried and stored. Some people add a dash of lemon juice or wine vinegar to the tea.
Gather young sassafras leaves and shoots. Dry on trays at room temperatures. When thoroughly dry, crush to a powder and sift. Store in airtight jars. use to thicken gumbo, soups or chowders, stirring into hot mixture just before serving. Do not boil a gumbo after adding file.
Using roots with the bark left on, make a strong sassafras tea by boiling for at least an hour. Cool. Measure liquid. Dissolve 1 ounce pectin powder for each cup pf liquid, and 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per cup. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add 1 1/3 cup sugar for each cup of tea. Bring to a boil again and boil a couple of minutes. Pour into jelly jars and seal. Serve with meats. Chicory
Chicory blooms from mid to late summer, its blue flowers opening in the mornin and closing by afternoon. Roots can be roasted at 250 dagree for about five hours until brittle, crisp and very dark brown, then finely ground and added to coffee. A piece of root grown in a box or a corner of the garden will produce new roots if the leaves are allowed to grow.
Bore drainage holes in a box ten inches deep. Put two inches of pebbles for drainage at the bottom. Fill with pocting compost. Dig a large root of chicory; it does not need to be complete. Remove old, tough leaves and clip flower stalk. Plant root in box and cover each crown with a large inverted flower pot.The leaves will grow underneath the pot and, without light, will remain pale, tender and crisp. They may be tied lightly together to prevent trailing, or grown with cardboard collars. If soil is kept lightly moist, it can be kept in the basement. Chicory can also be planted in good garden soil in a shady place, covered with pots and kept through the winiter. Blanched leaves can be served raw in salads or braised in butter. Sorrel
While sorrel grows wild in fields and on grassy banks, it can be planted in rich acid soil, in which cas the leaves will enlarge and become more succulent. In May its flowers create a pink-orange haze over the meadows. Seed heads are red. Much prized for the tang it gives to cream soups and fish sauces, sorrel has a sharper taste in its wild state than when domesticated.
Put a handful of washed sorrel leaves in a blender. Add 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, a dash of lemons juice and 2 tablespoons boiling water. Blend till smooth and serve over oily fish such as mackerel.
Finely chop a handful of sorrel leaves and cook gently in 1 tablespoon butter. Cook just until soft, being careful not to let it brown. Scald 1/2 cup cream, and add to sorrel. A little fish stock may be added if desired.
Wash and chop three handfuls of sorrel leaves. Chop 1 large onion. Saute sorrel and onion in butter, being careful not to brown. Add a large spray of fresh rosemary or a pinch of dried rosemary, and cook gently for ten minutes. Set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour and cook a minute or two, stirring constantly and being careful not to let it brown. Gradually stir in 2 cups milk and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper and simmer five minutes, stirring constantly. Renove rosemary from sorrel mixture. Put sorrel in blender to puree and stir in flour-milk mixture. Bring to boil and serve. Garnish with croutons fried in bacon fat.
Wash and chop three handfuls of sorrel leaves. FInally chop 1 large onion and saute with sorrel in butter, being careful not to brown. Add a large sprig or a pinch of dried rosemary and cook gently for ten minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon flour, the add 1/4 cup melted butter and cook, stirring constantly, for a few more minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs and 6 cups chicken stock. Simmer for one hour. Just before serving, reheat soup and stir a cup of it into two beaten egg yolks, the pour yolk mixture back into the soup, stirring. Add 1/2 cup cream. Season to taste and serve with croutons
Other sorrel soups can be made by adding handfuls of sprrel to potato soup, lentil soup and bean soup.
Egg and Bacon Pie with Sorrel
Pastry for a two-crust pie 1/2 pound bacon 1 large onion, thinly sliced 3 eggs, beaten handful of sorrel.washed and chopped handful of parsley, washed and chopped
salt and pepper.
Line deep pie plate with half of pastry. Fry bacon until barely crisp and crumble coarsely. Put half of onion and half of bacon in pie plate. Sprinkle with sorrel and parsely. Repeat for second layer. Reserve 1 tablespoon beaten egg and pour the rest into the pie plate. Cover with a layer of pastry. Cut slits in top pastry and brush pie with tablespoon of beaten egg. Bake at 375 degrees for forty minutes. Serve hot or cold. Purslane
This common garden weed trails into karge mats during the summer. its wedge-shaped leaves and reddish stems are very fleshy, and tend to be mucilaginous like okra. Cook it as spinach, in very little water, or stew with corn and tomatoes. The shoots can be steamed, then seasoned with melted butter, a touch of vinegar, salt and pepper. They can be pickled or used in green salads.
Purslane shoots (boils in very little salted water for five minutes, drain and chop), enough to measure 1 cup 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs 1 large or 2 small beaten eggs salt and pepper butter
Butter a casserole. Mix purslane, crumbs and egggs. Season with salt and pepper and put into casserole. Dot top with butter and bake at 350 degrees for twenty-five to thirty minutes. Lamb's quarters
Remains of this weed have been found in the excavated settlements of early man. Even now it grows plentifully in gardens, cracks in the pavement and vacant lots. Leaves are variable, but always toothed, and the undersides are always pale. New leaves and seeds are greenish silver. As with purslane and chickweed, raw leaves are a pleasant addition to salads such as tomato and opinion with basil and garlic. These three weeds can also be cooked like spinach, with just the water that clings to the leaves after washing, then tossed with ground almonds and chopped tomatoes. Or substitute them for spinach in a quiche, adding about 1/4 cup raisins and a hefty dash of nutmeg.
Lamb's quarters Flour
In late fall, when seeds begin to darken, collect the seeds and grind in a coffee mill or blender until as fine as flour. Before grinding, blow gently on the seeds to separate as many of the husks as possible, and discard the husks. The resulting flour can be added to white flour - about 1/4 seed flour to 3/4 white flour - to make dark breads and muffins. Chickweed
Much maligned as a weed and underestimated as a vegetable, this is the mildest of the wild bunch, therefore good wild edible to start with. It grows almost year round, particularly on edges of fields, stream banks and shady roadsides. On weak, slightly hairy stems, heart-shaped smooth leaves grow in pairs. Flowers are small, with five double petals. Plants develop into a dense mat of bright green,soft foliage. Use young plants, as old stems will be stringy. Chickweed can be used in a quiche or substituted for spinach in a souffle.
Wash chickweed well and put in a pan with only the water that clings to the leaves. Cook about ten minutes over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. It will cook down considerably. Drain and add salt, pepper, lemon juice or nutmeg. Garnish with dhopped scallions. Persimmon
Shiny green oval leaves grow up to four inches long on these small straight trees. Fruit appears in the fall, ranging from green through amber, about the size of small tomatoes. After frost, when fruit is edible, it turns dark brown. Fruit picked before frost will pucker the mouth unless stored on a window sill until soft and ripe. Flesh is yellowish, with three or four flat bitter seeds. Sieve ripe fruit to remove skin and seeds; flesh can be canned and used instead of pumpkin in desserts, or added to apple pies.
Gather full-grown leaves in summer. Dry, crumble and use as green tea. Also can be dried in jars in 140 degrees ovenSeals while still hot Persimmon Dessert 2 cups persimmon pulp 2 eggs 2 cups milk 2 cups flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup sugar 1/4 cup melted butter
Sift dry ingredients. Beat in remaining ingredients. Pour into shallow greased pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until dark brown. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or ice cream.