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A Taste For Good Earthy Foods

Pheasant under glass must be mighty good, and lobsters from Maine, and all of the other fancy things, but for ones most pleasing to the palate, my thoughts go back to the good, earthy foods.

The fields and mountains around us contain enough natural food to keep us all healthy for a long, long time. But we have perhaps allowed our affluent way of life to cause us to lose respect for the seemingly simple things.

There was a time not too long ago when it was a familiar sight to observe people walking through the early spring fields, and bending over occasionally to cut a lush clump of dry land cress.

Cress is one of the first plants to come up in the spring, and it’s one of nature’s finest offerings to the mineral-starved body.

Talk about a meal-a basket full or less of these greens, freshly picked, trimmed and washed, then boiled along with about a quarter of a pound of country cured side-meat, is a meal fit for a king or pauper.

And it’s almost as cheap as dirt.

There’s a secret or two to picking creasy-greens. First, you have to be able to determine the male plants from the female. I was always told that the narrow leafed plants were female and the broad leafed, male.

That statement may get me into all manner of trouble with the botanists, but it makes it easier to explain. Just be sure to concentrate on the narrow leafed kind because it doesn’t take a lot of the broad-leafed male plants to ruin a good batch of greens.

The second secret is to get it before the bloom starts developing.

Another fine food that some have cursed as a lower-lifer is poke-salad. Most of the good books on first aid tell us that poke is poison, and the berries may be, but there are a few people still alive who, with me, will vouch for the fact that poke-salad is mouth-wateringly savory.

There, folks, is a food that many of us remember

from childhood. The fresh green shoots, with a few top tender leaves, mixed with a healthy supply of young green onion tops; boiled

a while, then fried in bacon grease, have such a satisfying taste that I’d eat poke-salad and onion tops if I knew they were poison.

If the dish ever harmed anyone, it was perhaps because they broke the commandment that says not to eat so much. You won’t find it on the produce counter at the store, but I wish you could.

In times past one could not find dry land cress in the supermarkets, but recently it has found its well-deserved place among the mustard greens and kale in some stores.

I could hardly believe my ears when I took my bag of cress to the checkout counter a few days ago, and the girl asked me what it was. I thought to myself, “Poor girl, how could she have gone through her childhood and never been treated to a big bait of creasy greens?”

More about earthy food next week.

Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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