Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Picking

Just about a month after First Washday, we celebrated another spring milestone: First Picking, or the first meal of the year to contain something harvested from our own yard. If you think late March seems awfully early to be harvesting anything from the garden, you're quite right; our garden beds are still empty, except for a few holdovers from last year (a stubborn parsley plant and a few leeks that finally decided to germinate this spring after I'd given them up for lost). Even our perennial crops, asparagus and rhubarb, have only just begun to show their heads in their separate little beds, and it will probably be a few weeks at least before any of them are ready to pick.

No, the edibles harvested from the yard for last night's dinner weren't actually planted there; they grew up all by themselves. In fact, they're probably growing in your yard, too, whether you want them to or not. I'm referring, of course, to the lowly and much-maligned dandelion. This tough little weed is the bane of many gardeners because it will grow anywhere and is practically impossible to eradicate. However, as the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade—and when your garden gives you dandelions, make salad.

Dandelion greens are supposed to be at their best this time of year, when they're young and tender. Picking them is tricky, because if your yard is anything like ours, the dandelions are mixed in on the ground with twigs and crabgrass and fallen leaves, all of which you have to pick out of the dandelion leaves before you can use them. The greens also come out covered in mud, so you have to wash them very thoroughly. I put them all in a big bowl of water and then completely drained and changed the water three times before I considered them clean enough to eat. I also had to remove the roots, the blossoms (you can eat those, but it's a different recipe) and the tougher stems. However, once you've done all this prep work, the actual cooking is pretty easy. We used a recipe gleaned from Mother Earth News, although it's basically just a variant on the generic recipe for greens that appears in Mountain Cooking, a collection of traditional recipes from Appalachia:

Chop four slices of bacon (in our case, certified humane bacon from Trader Joe's) and fry it until crisp. Pour off all but a tablespoon of the drippings (Note: if you don't eat bacon at all, you can just heat up a tablespoon of olive oil) and add a diced red onion, or a couple of chopped scallions, to the skillet. Stir in 2 teaspoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, then pour the hot dressing over your greens to wilt them. Toss, and add salt and pepper to taste.

And there you have it: fresh, organic, extremely local (less than 100 feet), seasonal greens for free. Can't get more ecofrugal than that.
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