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Food that looks like itself … spring veg offal fun

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Are you playing with your vegetables again? I hope so. Otherwise, you’ll have to explain yourself to these radishes in need of a hair-do.

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Fresh-plucked spring veggies are just so darn fun, all you have to do is get out of the way and let them party on your plate.

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I just read a recipe that instructs: Split a vanilla bean in half, scrape out the seeds and discard the bean. WHAT???????? Are you crazy, at about $5 a bean, there are a gazillion things you can do with a eviscerated vanilla bean pod, the least of which is stick it in your sugar bowl until you can figure out how to use it. Anyway, I got to thinking about how people forget that the stems and leaves of garden-fresh beets, turnips, and radishes are edible and delicious. (Not strawberry leaves or stems. Don’t eat them!) Carrot stems are edible but an acquired taste. Leaving a little bit of stem on your wee veggies makes them look like themselves too; so much more festive at the table.

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I’m in the pickle phase of my book, and out of all my recent trials, the turnip stems in homemade muscat wine vinegar is my favorite. The pickled turnip stem idea was not mine, it was Hugh Acheson’s. The recipes in his new book are quite wonderful, even though you have to cut the dern book apart to be able to use it. I didn’t photograph the stem pickles, because who knew they’d turn out to be the Cinderella pickle!  Below are red onion and cardamom, asparagus spear, and baby turnip/orange pickles.

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See that fern to the right of the asparagus pickles? Well, that’s a strikingly beautiful Ghost fern which you can purchase anyplace that ferns are sold. This one is a piece of the original mamma of all Ghost ferns which spontaneously appeared in the garden of my very own mamma (and dad). Which is a sweet story for another time, but let me just say that I was just in Richmond VA, visiting my dad and the garden he and my mom created, which is actually more like a park. He tends it on his own now, and it is magnificent. As is my dad. Everywhere you look flanking the maze of antique brick pathways are native woodland plants loving collected, traded, and shared over a lifetime.

dad in dad's garden dad's garden 4

dad's garden 2 dad's garden 3

Which brings me back to spring offal salads that look like themselves … and this project waiting to be tackled in this forlorn forgotten corner of our yard: The abandoned concrete and stone picnic table from the 1940’s when our stucco barn of an 1880 house was resurrected. See that slab of concrete on the ground to the right? That’s one of the benches.

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By the end of the summer, it will be sitting on stone pillars waiting for alfresco diners like you and me. The old red goat house that’s now a facade will have to wait its turn.

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PS: “Offal” is technically something that is wasted, but these days, it’s typically used to refer to animal innards like kidneys and livers, that are again a welcome guest at many a omnivorous table.

Baby root veggie offal salad with buttermilk herb dressing
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Ingredients
  1. Fresh-picked baby salad greens
  2. Baby turnips, carrots, beets, radishes
  3. Strawberries if you have them
  4. Pistachios or other nuts for crunch
Instructions
  1. Tear the salad leaves and place in center of plate
  2. Cut baby veggies in half, leaving a little of pointy root end and a bit of stem. Save turnip, beet, and radish greens for another meal. Place the veggies around the edge of the salad. Top salad with buttermilk/fresh herb dressing, and sprinkle with pistachios.
Buttermilk/herb dressing
  1. Into your blender or food processor, place one cup good buttermilk, 2 Tbs. sour cream or greek yogurt, a smushed clove of garlic, a handful of fresh herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, chives, green onion tops), half an avocado if you have one, a squirt of lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until it looks the way you like. Can use as a dressing or a dip.
Log Cabin Cooking http://logcabincooking.com/
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Creasy greens! And a wild violet and creasy spring salad.

If you look down, Spring has arrived in our mountains.

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If you look up, Spring looks like it’s a million years away.

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But when the creasy greens start popping up in fields and roadside stands here in Western NC (usually mid March), eating officially gets pretty darned exciting.

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In case you don’t know these slightly bitter, pungent, heavenly greens, you might want to order some seeds from here and plant them post haste. What we call creasy greens are actually upland cress …. watercress’s landlubber cousin. Only more of everything including vitamins and chew. I only have one patch in my garden, so I picked up a bagful at a farm stand en route to our cabin this week.

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We ate them pan-seared with eggs and sausage for breakfast. Then, we had enough energy to do some spring cleaning inside and out.

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It’s easy to clean when there’s no stuff. And it’s too dark to see into the nether-regions. No electricity = no vacuuming, just a broom and a mop.

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And then once back home in Asheville, the creasy’s screamed SALAD!!!

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Usually I’m not much of a salad dressing fan, but there’s nothing like a fresh-tasting creasy green and teensy green herb buttermilk salad dressing to top a spring green salad.

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Right in front of the salad dressing and buttermilk are several baby elderberry plants which need a home. Who wants them? The variety is either a York or a Nova (not sure which plant they sprung from) and they will bless you with fragrant elderflowers for your summer cordials and cakes and deep blue-black berries that will strengthen your innards. You’ll have a crop next summer. They need lots of room and nothing else. Except you.

Creasy green buttermilk salad dressing with violets
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup buttermilk
  2. A couple tablespoons sour cream, mayo, or greek yogurt
  3. One clove garlic, smashed
  4. A handful of fresh herbs such as parsley, chives, basil .. whatever is on hand
  5. A stuffed cupful of either creasy greens or watercress
  6. Violets from your yard or mine
  7. Squirt of lemon juice if it needs it
  8. Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Add all to blender and whirl. Adjust the salt and pepper to your liking. Drizzle over a fresh spring salad of crunchy bibb lettuce with red cabbage, chopped creasy greens and carrots. Don't junk up this salad!
Log Cabin Cooking http://logcabincooking.com/
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A found mountain supper …

 Chickweedy morel

A lot’s changed since my college days when my friend, Lisa, and I would hitchike up into the George Washington national forest of SW Virgina for a weekend of wilderness camping with a bottle of water and a bag of pecan sandies.

Foraging

Now, I know how to grab a few friends, and find good things to eat on these eastern mountains come spring. My friend, Effie, born in 1914 in our Madison County mountain cabin, taught me about collecting branch lettuce (Saxifraga micranthidifolia). You collect the tender leaves in the mountain streams in April before the plant sends up a flower stalk. You eat branch lettuce “kilt” with a little bacon grease, sauteed ramps and a drizzle of cider vinegar. Or in fresh in a salad works, too.

Branch lettuce

Picking branch lettuce

And then there are morels. My favorite of the wild mushrooms. They grow where they grow, and for us, they grow in Effie’s very old apple orchard and among the poplars on the side of the steep steep STEEP mountains. Right here, they’re hanging out in a ramp patch that I planted from unststainably harvested ramps that I bought at a roadside stand a couple years ago. Here’s how you should harvest ramps.

Continue Reading →

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Stinging nettle pesto and branch lettuce salad!

 

 

It’s feasting time here at our Appalachian mountain cabin. The morels have come and gone, the ramps are getting scarce, but the branch lettuce and stinging nettles are in full swing.

Take a little walk with me to the creek and we’ll collect some branch lettuce for a salad and some stinging nettles for pesto. We’re heading though the yard to the woods where it’s damp and creeky. Continue Reading →

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