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Monday, March 26, 2012

Free Food in Your Own Backyard

In the community where I grew up, most people foraged for food. My family, and all of our neighbors looked for spring food in our backyards, in the woods and along fencerows. Everyone knew morel mushrooms and wild asparagus. Wild greens were looked forward to and a point of discussion when neighbors met on the street corner. “I picked a mess of lambs’ quarters, dock, chickweed and violet leaves” was a common conversation starter in our town in spring.

Besides those plants there are lots of others, equally tasty. Violet leaves and flowers are edible (leaves in the greens pot, flowers for jelly). Tulip flowers make good “cups” for chicken salad on a plate. Red bud blossoms get tossed into spring salads. (The red bud is a cousin of the pea and if you like English peas, then you already know the flavor of red bud flowers). The red bud pods taste a bit like garden pea pods - just pick them when the pods are under an inch long, to be tender.

Red bud flowers work well in salads.

I still have kale in the garden that over-wintered. It’s now in flower and those are perfectly edible, along with the blooming stalks. Cornflowers, soon to be in bloom, can be added to salads. Dandelion greens are a favorite of many in the Ozarks (boil twice to remove the bitter, then add some butter or bacon crumbles) and the dandelion flowers make an outstanding wine.
Pansies go well in salads for some color.

Johnny Jump-ups and pansies are both colorful additions to a spring salad. The menfolk will grumble about flowers in their salad, but the women in the family will think they’re decorative. And flowers actually have flavor, as well! Sweet Williams flowers, for example, make an outstanding sorbet or jelly.
Lilacs make very tasty sorbet, ice cream and syrups.

Lilacs, too, are quite tasty. You can use the flowers, without the green parts, to make ice cream or sorbet. Lilac jelly and lilac pancake syrup are bit hits on the dinner table, as well. Plum blossoms, as well, are used the same way.
Roses in my rose cake. Recipes are in my book, How to Eat a Rose.

Roses of all kinds, as long as they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals (and not roses from a florist, which aren’t edible) are all tasty. Rose ice cream is a favorite flavor in India and you can easily make it yourself. Roses combine well with regular tea for a boost in flavor. Rose sorbet, rose jam, rose jelly and syrups are all easy to make. The more fragrant the rose, the better the flavor. Rose hips (the fruit of the rose) are also used for tea and jelly. (Lots of recipes are in my How to Eat a Rose book; also you'll find recipes on my Herb of the Year blog, too).
Roses in mint patch.

Be sure you know any of those flowers before you try eating them; consult a good book or on-line to be sure if you’re in doubt. Don’t eat flowers that aren’t listed as edible; for example, narcissus and daffodils are not edible.  But there are a lot of flowers that are edible and fun to eat.
Happy spring!

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