Saturday, May 13, 2006

Another garlic mustard pull

Another garlic mustard pull at the Biodiversity Preserve today, and another beautiful day despite (or maybe because of) the dramatic clouds building up and erupting into rolling thunder as we were leaving. We had two smaller groups today, but our group made considerable progress clearing out a lovely wooded area full of wildflowers -- white foam flower, bishops cap, dark-pink flowered geraniums, jack-in-the-pulpit, and blue cohosh -- right near a beaver dam in the Cayuga Inlet. Betsy called it the "Sugar Cup" and said they have been working on that area at least every second year for the past eight years, and the efforts are obviously paying off as the clumps were much fewer than in the past. So that was particularly satisfying to wander around and pick every garlic mustard in sight until after a while we could no longer find any.This time I brought along a garlic mustard appetizer to introduce everyone to its flavor. I modified Jane Brody's "Spinach and cheese squares" recipe from The Good Food Book. Instead of the 10 oz frozen spinach spinach, I used almost that much garlic mustard which I had previously cooked as above (2nd delicious idea). The addition of garlic chives is excellent too, if you have it available.

* 2 eggs
* 6 T whole wheat pastry flour
* 8 oz cooked garlic mustard
* 2 T chopped garlic chives
* 16 oz (2 cups) cottage cheese
* 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
* 1/2 tsp black pepper to taste
* 1/8 tsp cayenne to taste
* pinch nutmeg
* 3 T wheat germ

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Whip up the eggs and stir in the flour til well-mixed. Add the rest of the ingredients (except wheat germ) and mix well. Turn on to greased 13" by 9" pan. Sprinkle with wheat germ. Bake 45 minutes or so. Let cool in pan 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Garlic Mustard - its time has come!

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has an image problem! Here is a wonderful useful plant that was introduced to the United States by European settlers who appreciated its flavor as well as well as its nutritional value (high in vitamins A and C). Plus they found it helpful controlling erosion, and even treating ulcers and gangrene! Eventually it escaped from cultivation on Long Island and became a pest from Maine to Oregon and into Canada. It's mostly a concern in forests where it exudes chemicals which disrupt the mychorrizal fungi that so many trees depend on. (Back in Europe there are plenty of insects who devour it, but not here. Even the deer don't like it, so they actually hasten its spread by eating its native competitors instead.) The paradox is that if garlic mustard were more popular then it would be less of a problem. Hence the campaign to use it while we try to eradicate from our forests. If leagues of people were heading out to the woods and fields every spring to pick crops of garlic mustard, then the problem of it taking over our woodlands would soon be over.

On Sunday I participated in a "Garlic Mustard Pull" at the Lindsay-Parson Biodiversity Preserve in West Danby, New York. This 450-acre preserve full of glacial hills and a mix of forest and meadow, ponds and stream, is not immune to the onslaught of garlic mustard, but fortunately its presence is so far limited to spots here and there. But that could change if no control measures are taken. It seems like a Herculean task when you look at the enormous numbers of plants in some patches. So the strategy, as Betsy Darlington, a delightful doyenne of nature activism in Ithaca, explained, is to first pick your area, where it is not so impossible and overwhelming. Our group went deep into the woods to a a spot filled with the enchantments of rolling terrain scattered with ferns in the underbrush, and a patch of mayapples, studded with white trilliums and other native plants. Betsy showed us a jack-in-the-pulpit (first time I recall seeing one), and it wasn't soon after that I discovered one for myself while pulling garlic mustard. Once the area is chosen, then we fanned out and went after the outliers - the upstarts that were on the march spreading outward from the patch.

The past few weeks have been the ideal time for pulling out the plants, as they start to get big, and up to the time that they begin to flower, but before they set seed. I only had a few plants in my yard, as I try to pull all of them every year, but I don't have to go far to find vast fields of them. Recently I filled several bags at the Fuertes bird sanctuary here in Ithaca, New York, and another day on the path along the water north of the Farmer's Market. Some delicious ideas:

* Young tender leaves can be torn up a bit and added to salads.
* Sautee garlic in olive oil or sesame oil or bacon grease; add chopped garlic mustard and other greens if available (garlic chives, spinach, arugula, lambsquarters, mustard greens, what-have-you); a little salt or soy sauce; add a bit of water or stock and cook gently. A dash of vinegar, balsamic or otherwise, may be in order. Taste and decide. This could be spread on toast, added to casseroles, eggs, quiche, stir-fries, etc.
* Garlic mustard pesto: crush garlic, slice up garlic mustard and also garlic chives if available, puree both in food processor with olive oil and walnuts (or pine nuts); add parmesan cheese. Start the water for pasta!
* Cream sauce: heat 1/4 cup oil and add 1/4 cup flour and cook; add hot milk. Separately cook finely chopped garlic mustard in a little sesame oil; and tamari or soy sauce. Add some of the sauce; puree in food processor and add back to the sauce. Add cheese as desired. Good on stuffed grape leaves for one.
* With leftover garlic mustard sauce, add a little yogurt, balsamic vinegar, and tamari and serve as a sauce for steamed asparagus.
* Make a sauce for roast beef. First the roast beef: make a slurry with crushed garlic and Worcestershire sauce, and make little inch slashes on the roast. Take a teaspoon to inject the slurry into the slashes, and slather the rest of the slurry all over the roast. Add some water to the bottom of the roast pan. Cover with aluminum for part of the cooking time so the outside doesn't burn. Bake at 325 til it reaches the desired internal temperature according to your meat thermometer. Make a cream sauce with the garlic mustard: Chop finely the garlic mustard and garlic chives, which are also in great abundance. Sautee in olive oil; add chicken stock or other liquid and cook gently. Make a cream sauce (as above) and add it all together along with drippings from the roast beef pan. This is so flavorful - cheese is unnecessary.