Friday, October 17, 2008

Foraging on National Radio tomorrow

Something fun I did this week was go foraging around the nearby park with Simon Morton from This Way Up. (Thank you Hannah, for making that happen.)

I think it will end up as a 10-minute piece, going to air on his show sometime between noon and 1pm tomorrow.

I will probably sit all scrunched up and grimacing with a cushion over my face, hoping I don't sound as much of a dick as I think I did.

At least he's promised to edit out my mad rantings about eating bugs.

Self-reliance salad

Well, sadly, it wasn't really. The greens were foraged from a nearby park, but the snails were bought in a can from a store, and the potatoes were from our CSA.

But what I'm thinking is that this could be an almost wholly home-grown and foraged meal, once our small potato patch is ready, and once I get a bit more organised, protein-wise.

I'd been thinking about how Sandra said that she feels more secure now she is producing her own eggs and has a homegrown source of protein.

I totally understand that, and wish we had enough room to legally and ethically keep chickens. We don't though, and we're not planning on moving anytime soon. So what are my options for protein security? Growing mushrooms, and gathering wild snails seem like good possibilities, and I'm looking into both of these.

Sharon Astyk's latest post, a recipe challenge, galvanised me to think about all this further, and so yesterday I made this warm salad. (I love warm salads.) I'm about to go post it on her comments section.

At least one other NZer has posted some lovely food suggestions there. If you are keen too, I think there is about one more day to go.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

ID'ing those pesky Brassicaceae

Right then. I'll start with the most confusing specimen, and finish with the most joyously straightforward.

The first Brassicaceae family member I took to Julia was something that I thought was LIKE wild turnip, but NOT wild turnip.

Just to be clear - here's a pic of what I always thought was wild turnip ... (Click on it to see it better.)

But then, quite a few weeks ago I started to see this (below) springing up all over the place, looking very similar but not identical. (Brighter flowers, slightly bigger and bushier, and upper leaves a different shape.) So, wondering what it was, this was the one I took to Julia.

Well, Julia is pretty sure this second one is actually wild turnip (Brassica rapa ssp. sylvestris). And now that I do a bit more googling, it all makes perfect sense. Wild turnip is supposed to have those heart-shaped upper leaves that wrap around the stem.

So what is the first one then? The one I always THOUGHT was wild turnip? It definitely doesn't have any heart-shaped wraparound leaves. If you look closely you'll see that its upper leaves are very straight and stick straight out.

Okay, onto the next specimen. I thought this was probably wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum ssp. raphanistrum), and Julia confirmed this.

It has hairy leaves and distinctively veined flower petals like this:

The flowers come in a range of colours from quite pink to pale yellow to almost off white.

And finally, here's the third plant I took Julia:

It has four-petalled flowers like other Brassicaceae. They are yellow and super-small. I took a sample of this one along to Julia on the spur of the moment. I had noticed it starting to grow around the place just recently, but I had no idea what family member it could be.

Well, Julia has ID'd it as hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale)!

So in summary, and unless new info comes to light:

- What I thought was something LIKE wild turnip IS wild turnip, and what I thought WAS wild turnip is something LIKE wild turnip
- What I thought was wild radish IS wild radish.
- What I had no idea about is hedge mustard. Yippee.

And all of them are edible - although some are more bitter than others. I would boil all of them, at this time of year anyway, to get rid of the bitterness.

Now just to provoke some debate ... what should I be calling this family of plants?

I've resorted to cumbersomely calling them Brassicaceae all the time now, because it's the only name for them that feels clear to me. Here in NZ I've noticed a lot of people - including the person I talked to at the Massey Weed database recently - call them Brassicas, but I find that confusing, because Brassicas are also a genus within this family.

On a number of international websites (and I think in an Owen and Nic Bishop book I read recently), they call them the Mustard family or the Cabbage family. But those names are confusing too. (I was calling them Mustards until recently, then found out that can also refer to the plants within this family that have seeds used to make mustard.)

So - call me pedantic - but wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this!

Monday, October 13, 2008

A secret garden

About 10 days ago, I pleaded for a friendly botanist to help me distinguish between different wild, edible Brassicaceae species. And lo and behold - one answered!

So late last week, my daughter and I headed across town to Julia Stace Brooke-White's house with a big bagful of plant specimens to show her. The minute we stepped onto the long, shaded path up to her house we were enchanted.

The path was lined with miners' lettuce, raspberry bushes and other tasty flora, and finally opened out onto her gorgeous front yard, which my daughter said was 'like a secret garden'. My photo above doesn't do full justice to its magical atmosphere.

We took our specimens inside, and Julia examined them. Her job was made harder by the fact that I had picked them too soon, and they had wilted ALOT. However, she made some tentative identifications on the spot, and suggested we leave them with her to research further.

On the way out, she showed us lots of her interesting garden edibles - and even pulled some out for me to take home (insisting, when I thanked her, that she was just doing a spot of weeding. :o)

I was also very inspired by her style of gardening, allowing plants plenty of freedom to self seed and thus adapt to suit their environment.

We headed back down the path and onto the street with a bucketful of blue borage, miners lettuce, mustard lettuce, feverfew, and 'parcel' - a cross between parsley and celery.

It was a lovely experience, and I thank Julia very much. And yes, soon after, she did email with more definite IDs for our different Brassicaceae, but that will have to be my next post!