Monday, April 30, 2007

Dandelion harvest

Earlier in April I searched carefully for a bunch of young dandelions. Last week, as May loomed, they were everywhere and huge - the dagger leaves spraying out from the center of each plant like spokes on a wheel. On Saturday there was more time and I pounced, quickly filling up the wire basket.. It was a cool and misty morning. Today most of those I found have started blossoming, and now everybody notices them. The best quality has passed. Nevertheless I make one more harvest.

basket of fresh dandelion greens

It's best to pick them in the morning when they are freshest - isn't that the best time to pick anything? But there is often not time then to clean them all, and certainly I'm not ready to cookup the whole batch. Excess dirt is shaken off each plant before being thrown into the wire basket. Then usually, I throw them all into a bowl or bucket of water. On the misty morning the air and bit of soil which still stuck to the roots were still damp, so I just left the basket sit on the back stoop. A light rain arrived mid-morning, providing a first rinsing. So they stayed fresh all day until I got time to deal with them.

When it comes time to chop off the roots, I throw the leaves into clean water for a second rinsing, and the bowl of muddy water gets thrown directly outside under the crabapple tree so as not to clog the drain. A third rinsing in clear water removes the last of the dirt and the transformation from the ragged-looking plant begins. As the long jagged green leaves separate in the cleaing, milky white stems are revealed with a shimmering purple center line. The bigger plants are tougher than the young ones we ate a couple weeks ago, and there is less succulent white stem, so they require a little more moisture and more time in cooking. And don't expect to eat a big bowl of dandelion greens. They're more of a spring tonic. Earthy dense flavored, a little goes a long way: they complement well other foods such as the pot roast made last night with barbecue sauce and then sweet potatoes. I package the extra abundance into glass jars or recycled plastic containers of a cup or less in size. They crowd easily into the freezer and are a welcome addition to many dishes in future months.

washed dandelion greens

The old wisdom has it that when daffodils bloom that is the time to plant onions, as well as other early plants as potatoes and asparagus. Today I actually did get the sweet onions ito the ground while the daffodils are still blooming. The onions, which I had started in late February, looked puny but healthy. At first I went for those with dry soil to transplant, but found the little soil balls would fall apart, so then I watered lightly all the dry ones and went for the moister ones. That worked well as the soil held together for the transition into the new hole, newly sprinkled with compost. Several seeds had been sown into each unit, so some units had more than one plant. I did not divide them up at this time, figuring I could thin them out for green onions down the road.

Besides garlic mustard and dandelions, right now I'm also able to pick wild arugula and bits of corn salad, which both have returned from previous years. I've still re-sown regular arugula, which has a slightly milder taste than the wild, but I'm addicted to both. No longer need to re-sow the wild: Arugula selvatica, as it has established itself now!

This morning there was a residual chill from the cold night. I had to get outdoors into the sun and warmed up by finding a sunny spot in the garden in need of weeding. On hands and knees, the warmed soil felt good. It hasn't rained for days.