It takes a practiced eye to see the garden in my weed patch. Nearly gone are the flowers; my conservative guestimate is that I lost upward of a thousand species, cultivars, and color forms. Though I haven’t counted the survivors, only a relative handful made it through all these years of neglect. Of the vegetables, the chives alone stand undaunted by weeds. The asparagus, even the rhubarb (victims of shade from small trees that got big fast) are nearly kaput.
Yet I just brought in a peck of greens gathered in a ten-minute ramble through the what’s now mainly goldenrod and garlic mustard. Indeed, perhaps a third of today’s bounty was garlic mustard. I don’t much like the stuff, but the first new shoots of this in spring are the mildest—a relative term for sure. I doubt I’ll cut more; other, milder greens are popping up now.
Yet when diluted by two or three bushels of other greens I’ll gather through the seasons, the flavors—tart, lemony, pungent, mild—complement each other and the other vegetables I’ll have gleaned from overrun neighborhood gardens or the occasional folding table by someone’s drive, heaped with squash or cukes or beans—and a can to drop your money in.
My technique? I just dump each harvest into a large clear trash bag in the freezer in my cellar—what I call my walk-in fridge; even in August the cellar is still relatively cool. By the time the bag’s half full I’ll slip on some rubber gloves, set the bag atop a bench, and crunch those frozen greens into shards and flakes until I’ve reduced the volume by, oh, maybe 75 percent.
Then I keep filling it and mixing it so that early spring’s dame’s rocket and garlic mustard—that dame’s rocket is almost as intensely pungent as garlic mustard (they share a family tree)—are scattered throughout the year’s bounty of nettles, dandelions, violets (the leaves, mainly), chives, ramp, daylilies, dock, bedstraw (not much; harvesting it is a chore), japanese knotweed shoots (get them early), watercress; and I’m sure I’ve left some out. All are either in my yard or within a 10-minute walk of my house.
To cook? Well, you just make your pot of soup or stew (more later on how to freeze taters, squash, carrots, sweet corn, etc.). Once it’s pretty much ready you just get a scoopful of crushed greens from your freezer and drop them in. If the soup’s really hot I’ll just turn off the flame then; the greens cool it as they cook. Or let it simmer a few more minutes if that cooling-cooking routine makes you nervous.
The important thing? Don’t let your greens thaw before you dump them in the pot. They’ll turn into an unappetizing black mush that even I might hesitate to eat.
Well, there’s more I could say. I could extol the virtues of nettles. And of poke; it should be poking up any day. When to pick dandelions. But those will have to wait.