This week we had a meal largely based around wild asparagus and violets.
“If you’re really good, I’ll let you sprinkle violets on your asparagus,” I say to the girls, trying to bait them.
But Susanna doesn’t fall for it. “Um, can we have crackers instead?” she barters, because any boxed or packaged product is innately superior to something fresh mom might have picked just before dinner.
Belén doesn’t balk at the violets, and even comments on their sweet fragrance, but is starting to get sick of the asparagus that shows up daily. Staring bleakly at her plate of buttered spears she mutters, “Keep calm and chew on.”
Foraging may not be the way to my family’s heart, or very practical, but it does make me notice a lot more than I used to. Keeping an eye out for wild edibles is like writing; it helps me pay attention. I’ve always been interested in wild-crafting, even as a kid, but I’ve learned much more about the plants around me in the last several years. Who knew spruce had tips? I didn’t. And violets? I thought they were a pretty little flower with a nice name but I don’t think I’d ever seen one before. I mean, really seen one. Now it’s hard not to see them–on people’s yards, boulevards, school playgrounds, and parks—because they’re everywhere. Going for a walk along an over-grown ditch in summer can be as overstimulating as a shopping mall on a busy day. My eyes rove over the foliage looking for feathery fronds (indicating a meal of asparagus next spring), rose bushes, plantain, or any other species I’m looking for. Elderberry is currently at the top of my list.
Foraging is most exciting in spring though, when gardens are a muddy promise and the air is redolent with wild growth. When frothy green poplar leaves are still unfurling, it’s time to head out with a sharp knife. (I always feel less self-conscious on the return trip when I have something to explain the weapon in my hands.) Come July, beans, tomatoes and berries will outshine spruce tips and cattails, but for now that’s what’s on tap and after a long winter, I’m parched.
Speaking of gardens, mine is still not entirely planted. Fortunately, we’ve significantly decreased the amount of space I’ll seed next year by adding more perennial edibles (a hazelnut, grapes, saskatoons, and more raspberries and strawberries). We don’t have a huge garden to start with, but I’m alright giving up some of my vegetable space for fruit. At least I know I won’t be the only one eating the end result, pretending my hours of digging, seeding, planting, weeding, watering and picking are NO BIG DEAL while certain people choke their way through a harvest meal. But it’ll be a while before we can fill baskets with fruit from our yard. At this point we’re counting every single blossom on our plum and cherry trees. Last year our blueberries didn’t grow at all; in fact, I think they shrank. The season before we harvested two blueberries. Two. And split them in half so all four of us could have a nibble.
So for now, we’re mostly dependent on annual crops. Thank goodness for fall seeding and transplants or we wouldn’t have anything fresh at all. The flea beetles have devoured my spring-planted arugula and radishes and I’m beginning to see damage from cutworm and slugs. Everything I seeded in fall is soldering on ahead of the pests…
And lastly, something totally unrelated to the rest of this post: a picture for the those of you who asked. My apologies to those who didn’t.
Have a beautiful weekend.