Old Friends – New Setting

To everything there is a season.  And now it is summer and I am in Washington, DC, with much to engage my forager’s eye – from the yards of beautiful homes whose considerate landscapers planted herbs as part of their design scheme, to the honeysuckle covering fences, there for the sipping.

Fortuitously, my sister Jocelyn invited me to dinner at the home of a friend whose house is surrounded by an expansive organic garden.  As our host walked us through the chaotic bazaar of summer bounty, I had several happy encounters with the East Coast relatives of some old friends.  A patch of purslane which had taken root in an old pot attested to life in a climate where water can be counted on to come from the sky. Back in the summer-parched Galilee, you would never find purslane that isn’t hugging a water spigot or irrigation pipe.

Knowing my interest in edible wild plants, our host showed me this plant and asked if I knew what it was.

duck's foot

Lamb quarters, he explained.  Also known as duck’s foot.

I don’t know what a lamb’s quarter looks like, but the duck’s foot is a dead giveaway. And there they were, the same webbed feet, just more lush and verdant than their Galilee cousin.  Even more delightful was to meet that ducks foot again at the dinner table, prepared as wild greens like best – sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with a little salt.

And these cheery blue chicory flowers I’d recognize anywhere – even mid-summer on busy Connecticut Avenue.

chicory

 

Ducks Foot in My Own Front Yard

There are times you need look no further than your own front yard.  At this point in our exceptionally rainy winter, my own front yard is a virtual jungle of wild growth.  In the flower department, there are pale, fragrant cyclamens, cheerful crimson anemones and tiny yellow daisy/dandelions.  And then there is tangled tapestry of leafy plants – edible and not so.  I’ve already been harvesting and cooking the hubeisa (mallow) – my edible wild plant soul food, and have made a few wild spinach quiches.  But for some reason, yesterday, a specific plant caught my eye that I’d never paid much attention to before.

Duck's Foot

In addition to learning about edible wild plants from local Bedouins, I also took an edible wild plants class several years ago with Dr. Uri Meir-Chissik, who is an expert in this field, among others.  Uri put a lot of his gathering know-how into a book, called in Hebrew “Edible Wild Plants”, and this winter I’ve been consulting its photos and recipes frequently.

The new plant in my front yard, according to Uri’s book, is “Kaf Avaz”, which means Duck’s Foot.  He recommends making Duck’s Foot patties, and the recipe calls for a large bunch of leaves mixed with whole wheat flour, eggs, salt and pepper. Form into patties and fry in oil.  This will be my Friday morning project. 

(Some hours later…).  It took about 3 minutes to pick the plant and 10 minutes to strip the leaves off the stalks.  I washed them, cooked them in boiling water and squeezed out the turgid liquid.  The patties were simple enough to make and taste very good.  Ron says they are bitter, but I guess I am used to bitterness in most of the wild plants of the season, and tend to associate it with healthful qualities. In the meantime, no unpleasant side-effects have been noted.  But if any do arise, I will report on the Duck’s Foot revenge.

Pick While It’s Not Hot

The last meeting of our edible wild plants class took place on one of these rare, cool spring days before the oppressive heat sets in, bringing out the snakes and making foraging in the tall grass seem like not such a good idea.  We convened up on Mount gilboa-iris3Gilboa, where we were treated to a humbling display of wild flowers – including the famous and elusive Gilboa Iris. 

And with our gaze focused at our feet, we picked wild garlic flowers which we put in our salad, a plant called duck’s foot which made a filling for turnovers, nettles for the soup, and some wild relatives of the arugula family, whose pretty pale yellow flowers were just as peppery-delicious as the leaves. 

One of the group, an intense young archaeologist named Zacki, had driven up from Jerusalem, and stopped on the way in the hot dry Jordan Valley to pick leaves from a plant whose name simply translates as “salty”.  He took those pale green, brittle leaves and

Salty leaves

Salty leaves

 

fried them in oil, to make the most outrageously delicious chips I’ve ever eaten. 

 

 

 

 

Zacki, it turns out, has a passionate interest in the agricultural origins of the Jewish holidays. And since I have been immersed in research on wheat as a local food of the Galilee, and since the wheat (and barley) harvest are very much a part of the original observance of Passover, we had much to talk about.

In the Old Testament, there are numerous descriptions of wheat, with specific names for different levels of ripeness, and if the wheat is roasted – or “parched” in many translations.  We were veggies-on-tabun1roasting vegetables on the outdoor stove, and added some of the wild barley and oats that were growing nearby, to no great success.  But I am determined to see the harvesting and roasting of green wheat to make the local Galilee specialty called “fariki”, which is the modern-day equivalent to the parched wheat written about in the scriptures.  This I will document, hopefully in my next entry…