Who knew these flowers are so beautiful? Now that I know, they’re on my list of edible/useful flowers to grow in the future.
It’s been a difficult year and every cell in my body has been craving simplicity and play in an effort to rebound. When I’ve had some free time lately, I’ve found myself reaching for box cameras that I haven’t used in years rather than my usual mainstays. These cameras are as simple as they come: no light meter, focus, and no aperture. It’s just a box that holds film with a lens and a shutter. The viewfinder barely functions. Hold the box, point it, and click the shutter.
Oddly enough, this simplicity actually opens things up to a certain amount of complexity and fun experimentation. Most box cameras like this one can’t focus less than 2m. I took this close-up photo by holding a magnifying glass in front, juggling a ruler to be sure I got the distance right.
This photo was taken with an old favourite, the Ansco Shur Shot. I love the smell of the old leather cover. Unfortunately, it appears to have sprung a leak somewhere, which you can see by the numbers and dots from the paper backing that have burned into the film. Of course, some people would see that as an advantage that adds something to the image.
On the plant: Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) aka cowbell is one of my most-loved edible weeds. I’m not a huge fan of the eating part but I do love those bloated flowers. I’ve secretly come to associate the plant with a favourite director, Jane Campion. But given that it’s alternate name is cowbell, I think you could make a case for calling it the Christopher Walken plant. More cowbell!
You can’t eat the leaves at this stage since the leaves are tough and bitter this far into the season. Instead, pick the tender shoots when they first emerge in the spring. Like most edible weeds, it tastes kind of like spinach.
Meanwhile, over at the community garden, I allowed a single bloody dock (Rumex sanguineus) plant to go to seed last fall and this is the result…. gazillions of baby plants are taking over the section of the garden that plant once occupied.
And to think I actually considered buying a replacement this year. HA! Turns out I’ve got enough to feed the world. In case you’re unfamiliar, bloody dock is related to sorrel and tastes like a tangy spinach. And of course, since they are so beautiful, I can’t bear to toss a single seedling into the compost bin. I dug a few out this weekend to try on the roof, but the rest…. Look out friends and neighbours…
Here’s what that section of the garden looked like last night:
It’s not just bloody dock in there but they make up the bulk of it. There are also borage, calendula and chervil seedlings vying for space, albeit in more manageable quantities. Even the chocolate mint was better behaved.
Ramps, aka wild leeks, are a wild North American onion-like plant that pop up in forested areas in early-mid spring. The season for ramps is short, typically no more than a few weeks between April and May depending on your location.
Believe me when I say that they are GOOD. Ramps resemble scallions except that the leaves are large and flat at the top rather than tubular. I’d describe the taste as an earthy onion or leek with the flavor of tender young garlic dominating. The garlic smell is strong with this one — our entire apartment reeks of it when we’re preparing them as does anyone who consumes them raw.
Ramps are best used in place of leeks or onions. Look for recipes in which either ingredient is the star of the show such as potato and ramp soup, ramp pesto, ramp butter, or ramp pizza. I’m considering this Fiddlehead Ramp Risotto since we currently have both on hand.
If you happen upon a seller at a farmers’ market this weekend I suggest snatching a big bundle up as fast as you can — I arrived too late at my local market last week and missed out completely. This week I made sure to get there early and grabbed up 2 lbs so we would have enough to preserve and enjoy in the coming months. There was no way I was going to go without this year. We concocted a homemade spelt gnocchi with fresh pea and ramp pesto dish last spring that quickly became our favourite way to use them up. And then we each gained 10 lbs. I’ve been salivating over day dreams of that dish for an entire year. Of course I did not write it down as I made it, but will write it up here when I’ve got it figured out, again.
There are lots of ways to preserve ramps, from canning to pickling to kimchi, but I prefer freezing. The leaves turn mushy and a little bit gross after freezing but the bulbs are fine. To get around the problem, I freeze the bulbs whole but turn the leaves into pesto.
- Slice off the roots and discard. Chop the bulb off and separate from the green leaves.
- Wash and dry the bulbs and freeze them whole, packed into freezable containers or baggies.
- Loosely chop the remaining green leaves and wash. Dry them thoroughly using a salad spinner or a towel.
- Finely chop the leaves in a food processor with a dash of salt and a few splashes of olive oil (about 3-4 cups leaves to a 1/2 cup of oil). The goal is to create a moist, spreadable paste. It shouldn’t be dripping, but it shouldn’t be dry either.
- You can add cheese and nuts to make a true pesto paste but I prefer to leave mine plain to keep it flexible for all sorts of uses.
- Pack into small baggies or small freezable containers and freeze. You can also portion it out by freezing in ice cube trays and later popping them into long term storage containers once they’ve formed into hardened cubes.
Cook small amounts of the bulbs and leaves together, or use separately as you see fit. The leaves tend to have a milder flavour than the bulbs, but are less flexible because of the added olive oil.
These are the pea varieties I like best and am growing again this year. ‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Dwarf Grey Sugar’ go in pots and everything else goes in even larger pots or in-ground at the community garden. I meant to write a post about planting my peas ages ago (peas generally go in early, as soon as the ground is “workable”) but that didn’t happen, weeks have passed and here we are.
Incidentally, this photo is the reason why my peas got mixed up. I spent a stupid amount of time one Sunday morning setting this shot up indoors but did not like the light. The little tags should be yellower. There is too much shadow. So then I had the thought to carry the board outdoors so that I could take a Polaroid. It was a precarious and thoughtless idea but I managed to make it all the way outside with only a few rollie-pollie seeds making a break for it. But then I got outside and it was windy, and I did not stick those pieces of paper down with tape, and well…. you can guess what happened next. The tags took flight. The peas shot off the board. Mayhem. I managed to sort some seeds by color, size, and texture but the remainders ended up in an envelope marked, ‘Edible Pea Grab Bag.’