Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fiddleheads, Ramps and foraging for wild foods

Article from the NY Times

I guess wild foods are a big deal now in trendy restaurants, following the trend of eating wild game. When I was a very young kid we ate wild greens and didn’t even know they were weeds! We actually planted amaranth and ate the young plants as spinach. I didn’t have real spinach until much later. Actually that’s not true. We ate spinach cold and chopped in small bundles as a side dish. But we didn’t call it spinach so I just didn’t know that was the real spinach.

Our neighbors had a good laugh when we raided their unkempt backyard full of young lambsquarter and amaranth. I guess reading Euell Gibbons’ books only reinforced my early childhood experiences. Some edible things are just unpalatable though, like purslane. Yuck. I can’t get past the sour taste and mucilaginous texture. Bitter is ok, like young dandelion greens but I draw the line on slimy, slippery things.

My grandfather used to eat very bitter things like bitter melon and even chrysanthemum flowers. But it had to be only a certain type of chrysanthemum. He ate it because he thought it was medicinal but he seemed to actually like the taste. I remember him giving me a small bunch of petals to eat. I immediately spat it out. Wow was it ever bitter but apparently it wasn’t poisonous. I thought plants produced bitter alkaloids to warn off animals from eating them?

I read somewhere that fiddleheads had a cancer causing chemical in them. But I would think you have to eat quite a lot before it became dangerous. I’ve eaten my share of fiddleheads and so far have not notice any adverse effects. It’s a seasonal dish so you really can’t eat that much of it.

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