It’s here! Spring’s finally arrived, keeping me happily busy sunup to sundown. I don’t mind winter, but wanted to say, “ENOUGH already!” when it seemed to last an eternity this year. Warm thoughts to my friends in the Midwest, feeling those chilly temps even longer than us! When the first green popped up, I was ready to dance like Snoopy from the Peanuts gang! So what if some of the vegetation sproutin’ were weeds? They’re green! Recently, I’ve even learned to appreciate and eat certain weeds. Come peek at what I’ve got cookin’...
When longer days hit, I eagerly head out every morning, coffee cup in hand, searching for “signs of life”. Ever wonder how on earth we can baby our plants, only to have some struggle and fail, yet weeds handle anything nature throws out? I’ve felt at times my yard could easily be proclaimed the “Garden of Weedin’.” The dictionary defines a weed as “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted”. I’d add that some weeds are “under-appreciated”. After all, nothing’s prettier than a field of wildflowers!
Fern grows wild here in Connecticut, but I love them, even leaving a few in my flower beds amongst my cultivated flowers.
A weed, still, I think they are beautiful.
My family and I recently participated in a “Family Fun Day” at a local farm and nature preserve. One of the activities offered was a “Foraging Hike”. The trained leader on the hike warned everyone not to eat anything unless absolutely certain of what it is. Many plants are poisonous, but knowing what’s edible could be useful. In Connecticut, Garlic mustard is invasive but tasty. It’s green leaves add a garlicky flavor to pesto, stir-fries, and salads.
Garlic Mustard, an invasive weed, can grow up to 3 feet tall. On our foraging hike, we found these to be tasty.
We also learned that daylilies (pictured) have tasty bulbs, which can be sliced and sauteed. Harvesting a bulb from under a plant causes no harm to the plant. Another edible are the leaves from wild Trout Lily, which we found to taste sweet. Unlike its name sounds, heads of Skunk cabbage are not edible - eating that would result in the sensation of "a thousand stinging wasps". No thank you!
Wild raspberries grow in our area. I love the ones on my property - we eat them on cereal, in baked goods and make jam each summer.
Also tasty are dandelion greens, packed with a powerful punch of iron, calcium, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Dandelion flowers themselves are also edible, and this year I was inspired to try something I’ve long wanted to do: make dandelion jelly. When I was a little girl and we’d head up to the Texas hill country for the weekend, there was an older couple living on one of the nearby ranches. She was the first person I ever knew to make dandelion, or Sunshine jelly. I heard of it again a few years ago when it was mentioned on the Farmgirl Forum. One of my favorite hobbies is canning jam, and I love trying new ones. My husband’s first reaction to my canning-the-weed plan was “Yuck” and I got raised eyebrows from a few of my more “indoor-type “ friends. I make raspberry jam from the wild vines growing all around our property, so why not dandelions?
Harvest about ten cups of bright yellow dandelion flowers. Avoid any that come from sprayed yards or are near the street or driveway, exposed to car exhaust.
The stems and green caps are bitter, so after washing the flowers well, you’ll want to remove the green, using only the yellow petal. It’s easiest to push the green cap down and use kitchen shears to slice off the petals as near to green as possible. The result should be around four cups of petals.
Add five cups of boiling water, “steeping” the petals into a tea. After it cools, cover and let sit several hours. (When I opened the container again, the tea was not the bright sunny color I anticipated, but rather a dull tan, and I admit it smelled less-than-sweet. I wondered if this was worth doing, at this point).
The next step is to strain the petals from the liquid, which I ran several times through a coffee-filter-lined colander, and finally through a screened sieve, until the yellowish liquid was clear of debris.
Add the juice of one lemon to the liquid and bring it to a rapid boil in a saucepan on the stove. Add one and one-half box of powdered pectin or MaryJane’s chillover powder, (I don’t like “runny “ jellies) and four-and- a half cups of sugar. While simmering on the stove, the liquid filled the kitchen with a sweet, honey scent, so I became hopeful. The flower petals themselves have a sticky nectar in them, so be sure to gently stir the liquid the entire time to avoid scorching. Boil for five to seven minutes, cool for five, and place in sterilized jars, following regular canning steps. For a reminder on the steps of jam-making, check out my post here: http://sfgblog.maryjanesfarm.org/default.asp?Display=57
After cooling the jars, the jelly congealed and the resulting color is a bright, cheerful yellow, and made quite a few jars. The jam’s delicious...a sweet flavor with a hint of honey and marmalade. My doubtful husband has already eaten half a jar, and requested a jar for a co-worker who’s eager to try it. Sunshine jelly is definitely a “keeper” in the recipe box.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or in this case, when weeds grow, make Sunshine jelly.
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