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April 2008

Oxalis:
Another Wild Edible Right Outside the Door

Oxalis_wood_sorrel

I've always liked these little plants. Big ones, with purple flowers are growing by the front door; tiny ones with yellow flowers all over the garden. They pop up in early spring around St. Patrick's Day - like little shamrocks.

Now I know you can eat them!  They are also called Wood Sorrel and taste very lemony - like the French Sorrel growing in the garden. Funny how often I have thrown the pesky things in the compost (their little roots are hard to get at sometimes) while praising and watering the domesticated sorrel.  No more. They are delicious and beautiful - and plentiful in early spring. And they help make a very pretty salad.

Salad_with_oxalis_and_smilax 


Smilax:
Wild Edibles Right Outside My Back Door

Smilax_vine

The Resilient Smilax Waving Triumphantly

Literally.  There are two large and annoyingly recurring vines on either side of our back door that I continually hack down. Their huge thorns and proximity to the azalea bush roots make it impossible for me to uproot them once and for all.

Smilax_thorns

The Down Side

I always remember their scientific name because when they were first identified for me years ago on a nature walk, the botanist said that anyone would smile at the chance to use an ax on them.  But she neglected to say that their tender shoots taste like asparagus - and that another name for them is sasparilla. Theirs is the famed root of root beer!

Smilax_shoot   

The Edible, Tender Shoot

I doubt if I'll ever get at the root of these particular vines, but I will add their shoots to salad tonight and hopefully several times again as I continue to hack back (prune?) this vine of paradox. 

I learned about the smilax' edibility at a class I attended last night given my Susan Marynowski, a local herbalist.  In addition to smilax/sasparilla, I confirmed that we have a number of other wild edibles already growing in the yard - the aforementioned betany and spanish needles as well as oxalis (wood sorrel).  I plan to serve these up soon as well and will let you know what I learn.

What a wonderful thing to know. I am so grateful to Susan for sharing her knowledge with us and very happy that it has been years since I've used herbicides or pesticides in our yard (thus all these wild edibles, formerly known as weeds).  If you're nearby, you can check out classes like these here.  The handout listing local edibles and medicinals is available here.  But Susan gave us much more information than is contained on the handout and warned that some of the plants listed have toxic qualities as well. Good to take the class.

As the weeks go by, I'll highlight each of these plants as they become ready to harvest in my yard. Next up: Wood Sorrel (oxalis).      


Bread: Staff of Life? Or Stuff of Hips?

Stuff_of_life

I started baking bread as a teenager for a number of reasons. I was coming of age at the end of the back-to-the-land/Mother Earth News era for one.  And I knew some Mormons.  Plus I really liked homemade bread.  As a little girl, I used to beg my mother to buy the frozen bread dough at the Winn Dixie to thaw and bake for our family.

When I started my own family, bread became symbolic of the kind of life I wanted. Time for it, for instance.  It was now the eighties; the era or workaholism, conspicuous consumption, and "trying to do it all." Slowing down enough to knead bread and wait for it to rise seemed like a good, working metaphor for the life I hoped to create for my family - as were thoughtfulness about ingredients, and the simple happiness that came from cutting into a still-warm loaf and slathering the slice with Better Butter. Around that time, I read Laurel’s Kitchen – a classic vegetarian cookbook that elevated bread to the main ingredient of a healthy diet and a happy home.

It was also the age of the high-carbohydrate diet. We were supposed to eat less fat, less protein and more carbs, and I was all over it. Excess protein was leaching calcium from our bones, and farm animals were eating precious grain that could be feeding the hungry (and my family) much more efficiently. Again, healthy whole-grain bread was the ticket. 

And there was the attractive multicultural history - pizza in Italy, nan in India, matzo,tortillas, pita, pumpernickel, hamburger buns!  Bread was what brought us together, what we broke at the table, what nourished us and connected us to one another. Bread = World Peace.  Or at least my little part as a late cold-war era mom of four babies with missiles pointed at them - and at just about every other mother's child. I felt pretty serious about it. 

Fast forward a little over a decade and enter the low-carb diet.  I honestly have never given it much thought since its intent seemed to be weight-loss over health, environmental concerns, animal welfare, or family (and world) unity.  But as my aging hips spread along with those of nearly everyone else in our country, I have to wonder how much can be attributed to my fixation with bread.

In my little world, I am kind of famous for bread (in a fifteen minutes of fame spread over 30 years way).  I have saved many a boring or unfamiliar or disappointingly vegetarian meal with homemade bread (because homemade bread is miraculous that way). And I have often baked and served bread publicly at large gatherings. Most recently, I have taught bread-baking and used one of my family’s favorite recipes at the “Breakfast Brigade” and for “Dorothy’s Café.”  People really appreciate the healty soup, local fruit, and the warm, boiled eggs - but they adore the bread. 

But there are the hips, , and I am attracgted to Michael Pollan’s advice to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants."  In other words, moderation.  So for now, one piece of bread each day. But if it's going to be just one slice, it’s going to be homemade. 

Basic Wheat Bread (aka Breakfast Brigade Bread)

The recipe below will yield four 9x5 loaves.   If you want to be fancy – and possibly famous (locally anyway) - roll out the dough after you divide it and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar and raisins, or chives, or rosemary, or garlic butter, or jam, or grated cheese.  Roll it like a jelly roll into a loaf.  You’ll get the familiar raisin-bread-swirl in the middle.  It’s good. 

Ingredients:

5 cups whole wheat flour

4-5 cups white flour

4 Tbsp. fast-acting yeast

¼ cup honey

2 Tbsp. salt

1 qt. warm tap water

 

In a large bowl, combine the wheat flour with yeast and salt.  In a second bowl, combine water with honey. Add liquid to flour mixture and stir with whisk. Add white flour, a cup at a time, stirring well after each addition until dough is soft but leaves the sides of the bowl clean. Turn onto floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).  Divide into fourths, shape into loaves (see additions above) and place in well-greased loaf pans. Let rise until double (in my preheated oven, heated to 170 then turned off, this takes only about a half hour).  When risen, pre-heat oven to 350 and bake for about 30 minutes till bottoms are light brown. Let cool slightly before slicing.