Weeds are plants too!

dandy

It feels like summer! The weeds in my garden say so. What I mean is, the prolifically growing weeds sprouting up everywhere (I daren’t blink) tell me the growing season has begun. I enjoy spending time outside in my garden, I love the flowers, the buzz of insects, the song of the frogs, and we have so many birds, so many. Our garden is rife with life, and it makes me happy. Except for the weed life, which I feel you can never turn your back on, not even for a minute, because they grow from a barely visible sprout to man-eating ‘feed me Seymore’ little shop of horrors plant overnight. OVERNIGHT I tell you!

So, imagine my delight, my joy, when I discovered how many of these weeds are deliciously edible. Call me sadistic, but I find consuming pesky weeds extremely gratifying! So here are a few frequently featured weed pests in my garden (chances are, they are in yours too) you can confidently add to your barbecue salad. Of course, be responsible, make sure you know what you are eating before you eat it or feed it to others.

Dandelions – it’s all edible, roots, leaves, flowers, go for it! The more mature leaves can be bitter, young leaves are best but older, ahem; ‘more mature’ leaves can be boiled to remove the bitterness. Boil the roots before eating as well, and I have heard (don’t quote me) that in a pinch, dandelion roots can be a stand in for your morning coffee. Just pick some roots to dry, roast them in a cast iron pan and add 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried roasted roots to simmering water for 7 to 15 minutes. Voila. Let’s go camping!

Purslane – Gandhi named purslane amongst one of his favorite foods, and elsewhere on this planet, it is grown on purpose. How lucky are we that it insists on growing here for free! All season long. Ask me, I know. This little plant has more omega 3’s than any other plant known, it has a light flavor, and can be eaten raw, boiled, or scrambled into eggs. It’s heart healthy!

Sheep Sorrel – okay, no matter how dire the apocalypse, my family will not starve. I have this stuff everywhere, it’s the first thing up out of the ground, and one of the last things to die back – the word invasive was coined to describe this blasted plant. It also has a light, lemony flavor, tastes better than spinach, is wonderful in salads and on sandwiches, and is widely used in French cuisine. Bon appétit.

Bishops Weed – Do you have this? I’m so sorry. You have my deepest sympathies. Truly. Also galled Ground Elder, this weed is one of the MOST obnoxious in my garden. The (insert profanity here) plant is tenacious, and I’m tenacious, so I know it when I see it and we have a real battle of the wills going on. So get out there and harvest, harvest, harvest! You can’t kill it, I promise, take as much as you want. Eat the leaves and stems cooked or raw; I like to burn them to a crisp. Just kidding. It has a taste similar to celery, and is apparently called Bishops Weed because it used to be grown at all the monasteries to treat grout. Maybe I should just give up and drink more red wine.

Clover – Yup, the bees will thank you. The butterflies will thank you. And your grass will thank you as it is a nitrogen fixer that actually IMPROVES the quality of your soil. You can eat the leaves and stems; I think it tastes kinda grassy raw, so not my favorite, but I am told it tastes better cooked although I haven’t tried it yet. My husband is pretty conservative when it comes to food, and he is a sweetie. He has not done anything in a long time that would make me mad enough to march right outside, and come back in with a handful of clover to cook for his dinner.

Garlic Grass or Wild Garlic – you will know you have it if you mow over it. All you will smell is garlic. Also a hard one to kill (I pull and pull and pull and it just keeps growing). Makes great pesto, good with eggs, and I’ve used it in soups, on pizza, in scrambled eggs, quiches – even garlic bread – with great success!

By Pam Denholm

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Salt of the Earth

saltI have often described a certain person as being the “Salt of the Earth” but never really bothered to delve into what it actually meant and the history of salt.  According to the dictionary the phrase refers to someone who is humble and lacking pretension.

Salt is a remarkable thing. An essential element in the diet of not only humans but of animals, and even of many plants, it is one of the most effective and most widely used of all food preservatives. Its industrial, medical and other uses are almost without number (ie. around 14,000). In fact, salt has been such an important element of life that it has been the subject of many stories and is frequently referenced in fairy tales. Some cultures ascribe magical powers to salt.

The word “salary” was derived from the word “salt.” Salt was highly valued and its production was legally restricted in ancient times, so it was historically used as a method of trade and currency  and the quest for salt has been the cause of bitter warfare. Offering bread and salt to visitors is, in many cultures, a traditional sign of hospitality.

The word “salad” also originated from “salt,” and began with the early Romans salting their leafy greens and vegetables.

Salt has played a prominent role in the European exploration of North America and subsequent American history, Canadian history, and Mexican history, as well. The first Native Americans “discovered” by Europeans in the Caribbean were harvesting sea salt on St. Maarten. When the major European fishing fleets discovered the Grand Banks of Newfoundland at the end of the 15th century, the Portuguese and Spanish fleets used the “wet” method of salting their fish onboard, while the French and English fleets used the “dry” or “shore” salting method of drying their catch on racks onshore. Due to this early food processing, French and British fishermen became the first European inhabitants of North America since the Vikings a half-century earlier. Had it not been for the practice of salting fish, Europeans might have confined their fishing to the coasts of Europe and delayed “discovery” of the New World. Historians believe that Native Americans produced salt from salt springs more than 500 years before the arrival of Europeans.

Covenants in both the Old and New Testaments were often sealed with salt: the origin of the word “salvation.” In the Catholic Church, salt is or has been used in a variety of purification rituals. In fact, until Vatican II, a small taste of salt was placed on a baby’s lip at his or her baptism. Jesus called his disciples “the Salt of the Earth.” In Leonardo DaVinci’s famous painting, “The Last Supper,” Judas has just spilled a bowl of salt, which is known as a portent of evil and bad luck. To this day, the tradition endures that when people spill salt, they should throw a pinch over their left shoulders to ward off any devils that may be lurking behind.

In short, the white granular substance we know today as “salt” has been essential to all life, especially with respect to its long and varied history. We are fortunate, indeed, that in the United States it has never been subjected to discriminatory taxes, and that in North America it is plentiful, obtainable and the least expensive of our necessities.

As you may realize by now, salt has had a very colorful history, both in the development of human civilization as well as public health politics in the past century. While salt was originally prized by many cultures for thousands of years, in the past century it has been demonized; some have gone as far as calling it the single most harmful substance in the food supply. Yet as we know, sodium plays a crucial role in optimal health, and too little salt intake can be dangerous in the long run. The daily recommendation is 1 teaspoon but we also need to be aware of the salt content in processed foods.

By Hazel Bacigalupo

Harbingers of Spring – Ramp, Fiddleheads and Morels

What is the harbinger of spring?  It is the sight of daffodils, crocuses or rabbits but it is also that wonderful time of year when three of nature’s bounties appear – and the bounties we offer were all harvested sustainably from organic farms.

sm rampRAMPS – One of the first things to arrive amongst the avalanche of green are Ramps (a.k.a. Wild Leeks). They are in the same family as chives and scallions. They appear from one day to the next and scatter themselves across south facing slopes all over the countryside. Ramps are a spring treasure because they are one of the first forageable edibles of the year. They have a wonderful aroma of garlic and taste of tender onion.  Chop them up and add them to soups, salads, egg dishes and potato and grain sides.  Ramps are loaded with vitamins A and C.  They also contain significant amounts of the trace minerals selenium, which may help to prevent prostrate cancer, and chromium, which is necessary for properly metabolizing fats and carbohydrates.

FIDDLEHEADS emerge as miniature dervish dancers around the first week of May. In lowlandfiddleheads forests from the Great Lakes to the Maritimes of Canada the Ostrich Fern emerges in profusion. Tiny gray-green spirals reaching into the first really warm days of Spring. Each of them wearing their own little fur overcoat to protect them when it was chillier weather. Snapped up and eaten by whoever has the sense and taste to do it.  How do you cook them? They can be used just like any other firm, green vegetable, such as asparagus and broccoli.  Their flavor goes well with Asian-inspired dishes such as a stir-fry or paired with cheese and tomato in a pasta dish.  They should be cooked as they have a bitter taste when raw.

MorelsMORELS are spongy fungi belonging to the same species as the prized truffle.  Like truffles, they have an intense, earthy flavor that adds depth to so many dishes, particularly those with creamy sauces, such as pasta and risotto.  They also pair well with game birds such as pheasant.  These woodland treasures are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps prevent cellular damage, and potassium, a mineral that helps to lower blood pressure and may help promote bone health.

watercressWATERCRESS is one of the oldest known leafy vegetables to be consumed by humans.  In some parts of the world it is considered a weed, and in others a herb, and in one county in England they hold a festival in its honor bringing in 15’000 visitors each year.  Rich in minerals (particularly iron) and vitamins A and C, it is also a digestive aid, and is rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants.  Used mostly in salads (often with avocadoes or cucumbers).

By Hazel Bacigalupo

Dressing Your Food

dressingSalad dressings and sauces have a long and colorful history, dating back to ancient times. The Chinese have been using soy sauce for 5,000 years; the Babylonians used oil and vinegar for dressing greens nearly 2,000 years ago; and the ever-popular Worcestershire was derived from a sauce used since the days of the Caesar. Indeed, early Romans preferred their grass and herb salads dressed with salt. Egyptians favored a salad dressed with oil, vinegar and Oriental spices. Mayonnaise is said to have made its debut at a French Nobleman’s table over 200 years ago. Salads were favorites in the great courts of European Monarchs – Royal salad chefs often combined as many as 35 ingredients in one enormous salad bowl, including such exotic “greens” as rose petals, marigolds, nasturtiums, and violets.

In the Twentieth Century, Americans went a step further in salad development – making it a fine art by using basic dressing ingredients (oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and spices) and Yankee ingenuity, to create an infinite variety of sauces and dressings to make salads the best ever. “Store bought” dressings and sauces were largely unavailable until the turn of the century. Many of the major brands of dressings and sauces available today were on the market as early as the 1920’s.

Unfortunately packaged/bottled salad dressings are generally full of fat and salt which defeats the idea that salads are great when dieting. And even when you select Low-Fat or Low in Sodium, there are additives in the dressings that really shouldn’t be in the foods you consume. Look at the ingredient list on bottled salad dressing. You’ll probably find one or more of the following: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, calcium disodium, modified-food starch, yellow #5, yellow #6, and xanthan gum (not to mention genetically modified ingredients in vegetable oils derived from soil or corn). What the heck is xanthan gum and why is it in my dressing? According to wisegeek.com, xanthan gum is similar to corn starch or in the words of the writer, “a colorless slime”.  Apparently, it’s put in salad dressing so the ingredients will stay mixed together longer and therefore look picture perfect on the market shelf and your refrigerator door. It may seem so much easier to just pick up a bottle of store bought dressing instead of going to all the bother to make it from scratch.  But it is actually very easy and quick to make a good salad dressing – it only takes a few minutes – you control the ingredients and remember homemade means fresh. A good salad dressing should compliment the greens and taste fresh, try this basic recipe.

Ingredients:

1 whole clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dried or fresh herbs to taste

Method:

Smash the garlic clove with the back of knife. Add garlic to other ingredients in a jar.  Cover, shake well and serve.  Will keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Feel free to experiment with adding other fresh seasonal fruits and veggies, pressed blueberries, lemon juice, cranberry juice, or yogurt if you are jonesing for something creamy.

By Hazel Bacigalupo

Feather Brook Farm Profile, Meet Tad Largey

tadOn Wednesday mornings, the chicken man comes to South Shore Organics, delivering poultry and eggs to fill our customer’s orders. His husky, six-foot frame clad in signature denim dungarees fills the doorway, but his demeanor is that of a true animal lover, approachable, friendly, and kind.

Largey’s Cornish Rock Cross birds, which he raises and slaughters himself, are sold under the Feather Brook label here at South Shore Organics, but also Simpson Springs in Easton, butcher shops Formaggio in Cambridge and South End, and M.F. Dulock in Somerville. It is an investment that chefs who work with his product will easily defend to retail customers. Heberlein said, “There is a thicker layer of fat under the skin, keeping it moist, which is a good selling point because people have the tendency to overcook chicken.” When Heberlein samples the chicken for customers, he roasts it with just a little salt and pepper, yet people are quick to assume that the birds were brined. With only 48 hours separating Monday slaughters from Wednesday deliveries, “it is the freshest chicken [customers] will ever have unless they have their own.” Other local eating establishments supporting Tad’s efforts are a real feather in his cap, and a testament to the quality of his offerings. Cream Etc. in Abington, and Shepard, Parsnip, Alden and Harlow, and Spoke Wine Bar all located in Cambridge, and Townsman in the heart of Boston are but a few. Largey has quite a chef following.

On Largey’s 14-acre Raynham, Massachusetts farm, a driveway is all that separates his abode from his animals and a combination slaughterhouse-packaging shed. Dressed in his trademark overalls, the 51-year-old Largey speaks with measured cadence, punctuated by outsized grins that break across his ruddy face as we navigate snowdrifts, side-step arm-sized fallen icicles, and walk by a poultry house that didn’t survive one of the toughest New England winters on the books. He lost 300 meat birds this season, a considerable hit for a farm that cycles through 125 meat birds and 800 egg-layers.

Largey is so effusive about his livelihood—even its pitfalls—that it is hard to imagine him doing anything else. It turns out that he has only been farming for a decade. Previously, he designed and brokered cabinets for Boston area CEOs, condominium, and apartment complexes. Being on HGTV and in magazines “was great for the ego,” but there was little satisfaction in designing $100,000 kitchens for families that used them to consume takeout. “I was feeling like one of those stockbroker guys that just touches money,” said Largey.

Largey began raising chickens as a hobby that put dinner on the table. He quickly “fell to the sickness of farming,” and became resentful of the time he spent on cabinetry. When the recession brought real estate projects to a grinding halt, Largey’s soulless career could no longer pay the bills, and farming called. As the outdoors became his “office,” he got a bit carried away. Like Noah collecting specimens for his ark, he added beef cows, milking jerseys, and pigs to the farm. “We’d go farm hopping, and somehow he’d come home with another cow in the truck and my mom would be like, wait, where’d you get this one?” said daughter, Shannon, a college student who assists with social media and deliveries. Said Largey, “Everybody who starts farming, in the beginning, you’re like I need to feed myself, so you have every type of animal.” In jest, he chalks it up to all the apocalyptic talk in 2012. Although the cows are gone, it is still a struggle for him to rein in husbandry projects such as “pet” goats and Rhinelander Rabbits—New Zealand crosses with their “insane” musculature and huge hind legs.

As for the chickens that are his calling card? They aren’t the farmer’s first choice. If Largey had his druthers, he’d be a beef producer and dairy farmer.  “I didn’t inherit my land or my business, I had to build it,” said Largey. “So you buy your chickens, you spend a lot of money on infrastructure, but you are able to generate revenue,” quicker than with his beloved cows, which take 18 months to grow from calf to finished beef. While Largey has had to grapple with economic realities that de-romanticize farming, there remains an overriding sanctity to his enterprise. This especially hits home for him on slaughter days. With the help of assistants, he suspends the birds to be slaughtered upside down, this dazes them and keeps them very calm making the process very humane. “I don’t care how tough you think you are, if you have anything going on between the ears, you think about what if I was raised to feed some other species,” said Largey. “Would I want to be kicked around first and spat on, and then have my life taken? Or that they at least respect my life, do it quickly, and with care for me? So that’s what I try to do.”

It is this nurturing approach to the business of farming, and what I would call a sacred outlook to husbandry and has built a system of farming centered on care. It is this system of care that makes farming a vocation in the true sense of the word for Largey. “Farming has fed me far more than cabinetry: my soul, my belly, friendships. Life is operated on a completely different level,” said Largey

Adapted from Jonisha Levi’s article titled ‘Chicken Man’