Along the Grapevine


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A Forager’s Red and Blue Salad

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You needn’t be a full-time, experienced or savvy forager to take advantage of the wonderful wild food all around us. With simple additions of two or three wild herbs, flowers, seeds or greens, an ordinary dish can be made into something which is visually and nutritionally superior to its standard self. Salads are perhaps the easiest place to get started. The ingredients will vary from week to week, depending on what is growing in your garden, near-by wild areas or even in your flower pots. Just be sure you know what you are picking, and that it is indeed an edible plant.

My salad today was inspired by what I found in the garden while out weeding. The base for it is what is growing in the garden at this time of year, namely lettuce and cucumbers (of which I have an alarming amount!) and beet greens, which in this case are actually deep red. Beyond that I noticed a lot of red and blue and decided to work with these as if they were my palette for a salady creation.

Even though the colour didn’t fit, I picked some purslane, probably the single most nutritious plant growing in any garden. I have way more this year than any previous year, and am determined to make good use of it while it lasts.

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For the red theme, I also used the young leaves of red amaranth which has successfully seeded itself each year.

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And purple basil.

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For the blue, I used a few chicory flowers for a little bitterness

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and borage flowers for a lot of sweetness, like honey.

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and Johnny-Jump-Ups for a mild wintergreen flavour.

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I considered using the goutweed next to it, but it didn’t fit in with the colour. This was not the only plant that had to be excluded because of its colour.

A few blackberries and a vinaigrette made by mixing some strained blackberry jam into the vinegar before combining it with oil and seasoning.

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The final result was a wonderful mixture of sweet, bitter and sour, light and fresh with some robust flavour not always found in summer salads.

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I will not likely be able to duplicate this exact recipe as one or more of the ingredients will soon no longer be available, but I will continue to experiment with wild ingredients, and hope you will give it a go too.

Related posts:

Gazpacho with purslane

Waldorf salad with purslane


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Harvesting the Seeds

Most of the summer’s harvest has already been brought in, with the exception of potatoes, leeks and a few tough greens, so the gardener (me) has a ¬†little more leisure at this time of year. Of course, there is some clean-up required, but that can wait. The forager (also me) still ¬†has plenty on her plate. I won’t even attempt to list all the things I should be out there harvesting, if it ever stops raining long enough. But one activity I have indulged in is harvesting the great crop of seeds I have – the usual garden produce of course, but also some of the weeds, perennials and self seeding flowers. If you want to be ready in the spring to plant your best garden ever, collecting seeds makes a lot of sense. I must have about a million cosmos seeds which I hope to spread through all our fallow fields. Maybe!

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It also occurred to me that for people with less space to broadcast millions of seeds, it also makes a lot of sense to select a few seeds to be saved for the spring. They can be planted in pots and set on patios, window sills or wherever you choose. There are some plants which are particularly suited for this purpose, and will give you every bit as much beauty as the store-bought annuals – they can even be planted along with for a little ‘diversity’. They will also provide you with the wherewithal to do a little safe foraging without having to leave the comfort of your home. Foraging is not just for the intrepid.

Some of the best plants for potting are herbs – and every kitchen needs a few of those. But beyond that, I would recommend the following, all of which have at least one edible part:

anise hyssop – for its leaves and flowers

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red amaranth – for its deep red leaves

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milkweed – to attract monarch butterflies, for its flowers and seed pods

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flax – for its blue flowers and seeds

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perennial arugula – for its peppery leaves and decorative edible flowers

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If you have enough of some of these plants, the seeds can also be collected, dried and used in cooking. This can be a tedious job, and one I don’t usually recommend. I have tried the usual method, of spilling them from one plate on to another in a breezy spot, but too many seeds were lost in the process. However, I did lately discover a very easy method for collecting and winnowing flax seeds. It requires quite a few seeds, some time in picking them but after that it is so easy with my, I believe, original method.

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This large patch of flax is going to seed gradually. You can see in the photo the little beige seed pods which are ready to be picked. I gathered a few of these.

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I put them in a blender and chopped them up as much as possible. If you have ever tried to grind flax seeds in a blender, you will know it has no effect on the seeds. For their pods and whatnot, it is another matter. I just blended until I had a fluffy mass of seed pods.

Then I took them outside where luckily there was a nice breeze, or maybe it was even wind. I put a deep bowl on the ground and poured the fluff through a funnel, held about two feet above the bowl. Unfortunately, I was unable to take a picture of myself doing this, but as the mixture fell through the funnel, a great cloud of seed covering was seen floating off into the atmosphere. After one try, the seeds were pretty clean, but I repeated this two more times and ended up with these seeds.

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This method did not work so well with the amaranth seeds I tried. If you know of any easy, practical method of winnowing seeds, please do share.