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Saturday, March 07, 2020

The not-so-hungry time

If I recall correctly (always the caveat with me nowadays), traditionally, this has been the time of year in the Northern latitudes for stored food to run out and new crops to not yet be available, so it was called the Hunger Gap or, where I grew up, The Hungry Time.

I've seldom found it so as there seem to be so many options, even in March. It's true my family has stored grains in better times and "put things by" as well, but here I'm talking about what is there outside, right now, at 44° North, that can be brought in and made use of, or even put by?

Our strong son has been here and cleaned out the barn, so the garden looks a bit spiffier than it did in January and February.

True, there's nothing doing in the strawberries, but there is still kohlrabi and kale from the fall plantings.

In the long bed by the entryway there is a bit more variety: yet more kale, elephant garlic, red onion, white onions, leeks, carrots, beets, and walking onions.

Solids -- beets, kohlrabi, carrots, stems of chard, garlic, leeks, the odd potato from volunteers and the like are chopped and put, in a bowl, inside the Dutch oven suspended from a chain above the wood stove top, and roasted rather slowly.

From top left: rinse water, dish water, tea water, lunch. Set oven on stove for High, on the lower hook for Medium, and the upper hook for Low (or, really, Warm).

Around the place we're finding young nettles, deadnettles, nipplewort, dandelion greens (the roots are good right now too), bittercress, dove's-foot geraniums, cleavers, English daisies and more. I take my time gathering as columbines are coming on early and are mixed in with everyone, and those we do not eat.

Sorry for the shaky cam image here -- we can expect more of this -- but here we have deadnettles, elephant garlic leaves, an early leek scape, and a dandelion.

Greens are chopped and added to the mix in the Dutch oven in the last little while -- enough to darken them up a bit, and we call it done when it seems to us done.

Surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, there's enough heat in the sun already that we have been putting excess forage greens in the little solar dehydrator. When they are at 10 percent or less of water content, we dry blend and store as powder, and this is used a pinch at a time on everything -- as tea, as a condiment/seasoning, or soup or bread ingredient.

You'd maybe be amazed at the things that can go into the foliage powder. I do include lavender, thyme, oregano, rosemary, sage, dill, wild garlic, mulberry leaves, mallow, plantain, dock, chicory, cats-ears (false dandelion), linden leaves, maple bracts, pussy willow leaves. I even include a fabulous plant, much loved by gardeners for composting or making compost tea, that I'll not name here -- very high in protein and minerals -- the older variety of which can still be grown from seed and is low in that alkaloid that has given the plant a bad name since my day. My liver is old enough not to care. Your mileage may vary.

The trick is to get to know what grows through the winter, and also the wild edibles that grow, where you are (local example here); when they are best to use, and so on, along with being able to spot the no-no's. There is no poison oak in my salad, for example.

Many of the things I'm using can be found in vacant lots or alleyways in many of our cities. Added to that stored rice, they can be a bit of a lifesaver, should one find oneself in a long lockdown. While waiting for the authorities to figure out what to do with us, we can play cards, read and sing to one another, and remember that "the last wish of good food is to be eaten" ... in, hopefully, may it be, a not-so-hungry time.


Sometimes we pull up the sprouts of chugaya flowers, gather peach moss, pull up rice bran, or pick Japanese parsley. Sometimes walking in the fields at the foot of the mountain we may also glean heads of grain. If the weather is nice, we may climb to the summit of the mountain and look out over Kobatayama ... 
--Hojoki, by Chomei

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