So, I’m venturing lightly back into my weed discussion that I so quickly abandoned in the last post in favor of a dismal discourse into creative angst. Bear with me.. I’m going to roll with the angst. It seems to be working for me in the creativity department.
During the Winter months at our winery, the vines are neatly trimmed low and peeking out from the vast explosion of yellow mustard weeds that all but consume the otherwise domineering vines. This is when the vines are in quiet contemplation overshadowed by the Mustard Weed that grows freely, with wild abandon, between them, fed by the rains and undisturbed by the workers.
To our family, the beautiful weed (oxymoron?) is but a delectable nutrient-rich wild crop that we eagerly look forward to gracing our table every year at this time. It’s a tradition that stems from old Italian resourcefulness and well.. the fact that Sicilians pretty much eat everything thats not nailed down and spoken for.
The best part is watching the process, as mom starts getting excited, searching around the vineyards for the first signs of the fragile young weed shoots like it’s an egg hunt. The young mustard weed is the most tender and highly prized, resembling a thin version of Broccoli Rabe. By the time it becomes a thick field of yellow, the stems are too tough and pungent to eat, unless you are a range goat.
After picking the tender stalks, Mom then parboils them, and then frys them in a skillet, potato pancake style, with lots of olive oil, shaved garlic, salt and pepper. The trick is to flip it over like an omelete after it’s a bit brown on one side and then finish it on the other side. Serve immediately.
Well known Author Euell Gibbons, often referred to as a survivalist, was an advocate of the harvesting of nutritious but ignored plants, plants that otherwise wouldn’t get a second chance of landing on the dinner table much less be allowed to grow on the side of the freeway. Much like the mustard weed, he encouraged the preparation of such plants as rose hips, stinging nettle, purslane, amaranth and lamb’s quarters. He typically prepared these not in the wild, but in the kitchen with abundant use of spices, butter and garnishes. In his book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” Gibbons noted how the first sign of spring would be not the robins on the lawn, but the Italians who would swarm out from town to gather winter cress from fields and ditches. Here are a few lines from the book, originally published in 1962:
“The suburban dweller seldom bothers to identify the plant which the immigrants are so eagerly collecting. Such knowledge is strictly for squares. He is satisfied to refer to it merely as “some weed the Italians eat.” We have come to a poor pass when we think that allowing ourselves to be bilked because of our own ignorance contributes to our status. And still we think we have a mission to teach the rest of the world “the American way.” Heaven forbid this kind of thinking. We do have some things to teach, but we also have many things to learn from other cultures. Unless we realize that cultural exchange is a two-way street, we shall fail, and much of the ancient and precious wisdom now residing in the simple peoples of the world will be lost.”
There’s something to be said about living off of what nature has provided us, enjoying what’s right under our nose, and rejoicing in the fact that man did not propegate it. An interesting concept for those folks hunkering down for the world to end in 2012… bet they haven’t learned the art and appreciation of eating weeds. They’re too busy stockpiling Peanut Butter and canned fruit. Keep your cans, leave me the weeds. They’ll pair well with the wines in our cellar, I’m sure.