You won’t see weeds the same way after this.
Lamb’s quarters quiche, chickweed tart, or dandelion soup, anyone?
Those are recipes found in The Good Season — Easy Recipes for Wild Edibles, a combination cookbook and field guide to edible weeds created by two University of Guelph agricultural science students.
Michelle Carkner, now beginning her MA in plant science in the natural systems agriculture program at University of Manitoba and her colleague Michelle Arseneault, have released their book just in time for the spring’s first flush — of dandelions, lamb’s quarters and nettles, common chickweed, purslane, and common mallow (which has edible flowers).
This is “a way of managing your pests by eating them,” says the pair, who started work on the book last summer while working with Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. They shared an interest in food and agriculture, plus Carkner had a background in culinary arts and Arseneault took great photos. So the provincial weed specialist urged them to try a cookbook, says Carkner.
They chose carefully, looking for weeds that are both plentiful and tasty to feature in a book that would have mainstream appeal, said Carkner, a chef who earned her credentials at George Brown College in Ontario before switching over to agriculture.
“In my research for this and looking at other foraging cookbooks, I really saw a lack of cookbooks that would appeal to most people,” she says. “The recipes can be a little bit strange and the plants too. I wanted to choose wild edibles that are commonly available and recipes that would be familiar too.”
Each weed has its own texture, flavour and use, she said. The slightly bitter dandelion is tender when picked young, while lamb’s quarters and nettles are both similar to spinach. Common chickweed tastes like peas while purslane has a more lemon peppery flavour. Common mallow’s edible flowers can be used as dessert decorations.
The Good Season photography is by Michelle Arseneault, also a B.Sc. graduate from University of Guelph with a background in integrated pest management. Her colourful photos, which correctly identify each of the five weeds through all their life stages are accompanied by clear explanations for when to pick and how to harvest. The book also contains look-alike plants, to prevent mistaking what’s edible with what’s not. Plus, there’s the precaution never to pick where pesticides may have been applied.
Carkner said they hope The Good Season helps people see their food differently. It doesn’t come from the store. You don’t even necessarily have to plant it yourself.
“The goal when we started was to open people’s minds a little bit to the possibilities,” she said. “Food doesn’t always have to come pre-packaged in a plastic bag. Food comes out of the ground. And if we can see weeds as plants just like we see spinach and lettuce, maybe that connection of food coming out of the ground can be stronger.”
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And gardeners with aching backs take note — the more edible weeds we allow in, the bigger the harvest. Intercropping cultivated plants with weeds is a great way to add to a garden’s bounty. The Good Season talks about that too.
Hard copies will be available shortly but you can now purchase The Good Season as an e-book (available from Amazon (Kindle), Indigo (Kobo) and iBooks (iPad and iPhone) — just in time for beginning of “the good season” of weeds.
The best time to be harvesting these edible weeds is late spring to early summer, when they’re still young, tender and at an optimal size for preparing and eating.
The cookbook project was partially supported by University of Guelph’s Undergraduate Student Experiential Learning Program, which is funded by the knowledge translation and transfer program created by the university’s partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs.
For more information visit The Good Season website.
Cream of Dandelion Soup
This recipe was one of the more challenging to create because dandelion greens impart a slightly bitter taste to foods, says Carkner. The sweetness of the maple syrup and the saltiness of the bacon helps.
- 2 lbs. (about 6 cups) young dandelion greens, trimmed and washed
- 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
- 2 large leeks, white and light parts only, cleaned and sliced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 12 rashers of bacon (usually a pack) sliced against the grain, 1/2 inch wide
- 4 c. vegetable stock
- 2-1/2 c. milk
- 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard (optional)
- 2 tbsp. maple syrup
- 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- Dash salt and pepper to taste
- Handful of dandelion flower petals for garnish
Blanch the greens in salted, boiling water for one minute. Cool in ice water, then drain and chop. Set aside. On medium-high heat, cook the bacon. Stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pot. When the bacon is brown and crispy, remove with tongs to a bowl or plate lined with paper towel. Set aside. Using the bacon fat and the same pot on medium-high heat, add greens, carrot and leeks. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Add stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in milk; cook stirring frequently until slightly thickened. Purée this mixture using a tightly covered blender, or a hand blender, until smooth, taking care with the hot liquid. Add the puréed soup back to the pot and return to the element on medium-high heat. Bring the soup back to a boil, whisking constantly. This will thicken it slightly. Add the bacon (reserving some for garnish), maple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and add Dijon mustard if you like. Serve in bowls and sparsely garnish with flower petals.
Source: The Good Season by Michelle Carkner and Michelle Arseneault, 2014. Reprinted with permission.