New life is all around. One gift that I’m finding in this quarantine is the new way I’m experiencing spring. I have always loved that first warm day when I can open all of the windows in the house and let the fresh air pour in. But this year my senses seem heightened. I see every crocus, every violet. The first forsythia to bloom stopped me in my tracks to admire the bright yellow beauty. The days of sunshine call me outside even when they aren’t warm at all. It’s a gift and we should not let these little joys pass us by.
We’ve received tons of great ideas from all of you about what meal we should make to represent the United States. After giving it a lot of thought, we aren’t going to limit this one to just one meal. While we are in quarantine the posts will be about food from the USA, some iconic food, some state specifics, and some like this that are hyper local foraged feasts.
To start off we decided to go hyper local. Like my own backyard level of local. Not only does this stay well within our stay at home orders, it gives an opportunity to think about how the earth was designed to provide nourishment for our bodies, and a chance for Colin and me to share some of our quirky passions. Marrying Colin has opened my eyes to the way that food is all around us. He makes me hemlock tea on camping trips, grabs Indian cucumber out of the ground to eat on hikes, and offers “nature’s gum” whenever we see spearmint on a trail. I have to give all credit to him for dreaming up this salad. He took multiple walks around our yard and consulted our Midwest Foraging book Lisa Rose. He was insistent that the whole salad come from the yard with the exception of vinegar. The salad was composed of violets (leaves and flowers), dandelions (leaves and roots), red bud buds, peaches, maple syrup, and vinegar.
Most people discard dandelions as pesky weeds. I have come to see them as one of the surest signs of spring. Colin and I have sat in many fields picking dandelions for dandelion wine and now we sit in our yard picking dandelion greens and roots for this salad. The greens are earthy and a perfect amount of bitter to make a salad interesting. The roots we cleaned, chopped and roasted. Once roasted we caramelized them in a bit of maple syrup. Fear not, the maple syrup actually does come from our backyard/neighborhood. We don’t have any maples on our property, but for the last several years we’ve had a little neighborhood syrup collaborative. The neighbors tap their trees and collect the sap and then we host a boil day in the backyard. Colin sets up and starts a fire early in the morning. We spend the better portion of the day boiling until the haul of sap has been reduced to syrup. Colin and I can all of the syrup and pass the jars out to the neighbors, taking a small tax for the labor of boiling. It builds community and provides delicious syrup for the year. The roasted and caramelized roots added a crunchy and sweet element to our salad.
Unbeknownst to me, violets are totally edible, the leaves and the flowers. To be honest I didn’t know that the purple things in my yard were violets until this year. Sometimes those little flowers that come and go quickly don’t catch my attention in a more normal pace of life. But this year I filled bowls full of them while Colin picked redbud buds off the trees. The longer I sat in the grass picking in patches of violets, the subtle smell of the flower rose to be more distinct. Eating the flower portion has a definite floral taste but it’s soft and not overwhelming. For the redbud, we soaked the buds in vinegar and they became a bit like a caper.
Friends of ours, knowing how deeply we love homemade and homegrown things, bought us a peach tree as a housewarming present. We had cans of peaches in the basement, and I honestly can’t say whether they came from our peach tree or if they were some that we bought at the local orchard, but either way we are calling it a backyard food for the purposes of this salad. Once all of the pieces were gathered and washed we set out to make a dressing. We made a reduction of some of the peach juice, a bit of maple syrup, and vinegar. The salad was so picturesque, fun to make, and actually wildly delicious (pun intended). It seemed only fitting that we eat this salad out of this handcrafted wooden bowl that Colin made from our neighbors tree that came down last year.
If this salad sounds like a wild and fun dinner then we urge you to get outside and start foraging right away. This specific salad is only good for a short, short season. If you think I’m a little off my rocker then go ahead and leave the violets in your lawn looking pretty, but do pause to marvel at the fact that there is growth, wild food and new life all around. Michael Pollan is a food writer who challenges us to think deeply about what we eat and the way we consume it. I’ll leave you with a quote from him that embodies the way we should eat for health and a sustainable future. “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”