OK, I felt like a dork but I did it. I gave into temptation and ate a piece of dollar weed just to see what it tasted like. Well, it sure didn’t taste like lettuce and I wouldn’t want to eat a bowlful by itself but … well … it wasn’t all that terrible. I made sure to do it when Cal was at work because no way was I going to have him thinking that I’d finally lost what little bit of mind I have left. Bad enough I had a dream last night were we were all out in the yard, grazing like the goats and scratching around in the sand like the chickens. But it has got me thinking about what I can do to piece out what we have.
First off I know I need a green house, a real one. Might not happen any time soon but I do need one. I think that I can maybe afford some PVC pipes and some visqueen sheeting with which I could build something sorta like some of the organic and hydroponic farms use. It wouldn’t be big and I’d be afraid it would blow over in a storm but at least I could start seeds early and have someplace besides the Florida room to put the potted trees like the cocoa that I bought from the nursery. The deep south tropicals are outside right now but as soon as the weather starts dropping below forty-five at night I’m going to have to move them into some kind of protected structure.
Second off, dang but there are a lot of wild plants you can eat. I’ve been looking at some of the books I picked up from the library sale. I used “Florida’s Best Herbs and Spices” to decide what to order from the nursery that time so I know that when something is growing it doesn’t always look exactly how you are used to seeing it in a bottle on the grocery store shelf. Still … I mean, I never imagined you could eat cattails. Come on, cattails … those fuzzy things that grow in ditches … but apparently they are like gourmet in the world of wild edibles. From roots to shoots to pollen there are a bunch of different ways to use them.
And that’s not all. You can make a lemonade like drink from dried sumac berries … I thought those things were poisonous but apparently the poisonous kind isn’t what grows around here. There are a whole bunch of sumac growing up in the palmetto stand area; they stick out like a sore thumb. I’ll test it out on myself first and if I don’t croak then I’ll give some to Cal and maybe a tiny bit to Feena just to see her make a face the way she does with lemons.
And I finally know what fiddleheads are … I thought they were a fish … they are actually baby ferns, the kind that are still curled up like snail shells. People pay big bucks to eat them in fancy restaurants. Who knew?! Heck, we have enough ferns growing in the wood lot to supply every fancy restaurant in Miami, Tallahassee, and Jacksonville combined.
I went looking around the property with a guide book that had both drawings and real photographs – blasted rattler nearly had me climbing a tree until I saw a hawk or something had already killed it – and found a few things, then realized I’d never remember where I saw them and went back to the house and got some awful colored yarn that I had bought a couple of years ago to crochet a bed cover with until Daniel had emphatically nixed sleeping under fluorescent pink poofs. In hindsight I can’t say I blame him but I’m glad I can finally put the stuff to some use. It is so bright it gives you a headache just looking at it for long.
There is a freak ton of wild anise on the property but I already knew that. Papa and Daddy swore it was their fishing secret … they’d rub it on their lures and never failed to catch something when they did. The thing is I just didn’t know you could eat it. I mean you can really get anise from the seeds just like at the grocery but apparently the leaves are edible too … like you can add it to a salad or make a tea out of them. I love anise tea with honey when I have that gassy bloated feeling at a certain time of the month. Papa used to love Anise Tea if he’d eaten too many garbanzo beans and they had upset his stomach.
There’s a big ol’ achiote bush near the barn – annatto for you Yankee talkers – that is the same plant that you get the stuff like you buy in the store from. If I had known that you know good and well I wouldn’t have spent any money on it in the store even though I was getting it deep discount. Why spend any money if you can get something just as good for free or barter. I bet it was something that either Abuela or Momma planted. They both were really into growing things and loved plants and flowers. Both of them grew up very poor and had to make do a lot. I think that is why they were such kindred spirits and that my grandparents were so happy with Daddy’s choice of bride. She wasn’t Spanish – which I guess makes me a bit of a mutt – but that’s not the first time that’s happened in the family. Papa said our family tree had more diversity in it than the UN … and we still managed to make a lot more sense. Daddy always said that that wasn’t that much of an accomplishment since the UN made so little sense. Then Papa would laugh. It was an old joke between them. I hadn’t thought about that in years.
And the fruit of our bilimbi tree is edible! I know I keep saying who knew but … who knew? I thought it was just some strange ornamental Abuela had planted before I was born. It has these freaky fruits that grow from the trunk and because of the way they look I always called it the cucumber tree. That fruit is actually edible. I think Papa brought it back from one of his early missionary trips to southeast Asia. He used to do stuff like that before customs got so picky.
There’s chicory all up and down the road. I thought the stuff was just a stupid weed with cute little flowers. Young leaves can be used in salads but what most people go after are the roots. You dry those suckers and grind them up and you have coffee. Now that I’ve read it I remember hearing about chicory coffee being a Louisiana delicacy. I swear, the things you learn when you bother to read and listen. It’s like understanding that two plus two equals four for the first time.
And all that lemon grass that I replanted around the house like it was when I was growing up because it keeps away the mosquitos? Yeah, that’s edible too. And let me tell you it is good. I sliced some up when I was broiling some fish and also put some in the rice and tried it on Cal and Josh (Cal picked him up to get him out of the house for a while and I think they were doing some guy talking) and they raved about it. Hah! I’m almost tempted to not tell Cal what the secret ingredient was.
And for sure I’m not going to tell Josh … he makes funny faces about nearly everything but French fries, hot dogs, and mac-n-cheese. He’s a spoiled mess … I’ve tried to tell him what actually goes in hot dogs and what the casings are made out of and he just sticks his fingers in his ears and goes la-la-la-la like some kid. Dorrie said he was the pickiest eater imaginable until he was forced to eat what she gave him or go hungry before he could get out of bed for more than a couple of minutes at a time. At least now he will actually eat something green without closing his eyes.
Those little orange things that are left on the heirloom rose bushes after the blooms are done are called “hips” – I know, silly name – but they are edible too. I only remember Papa telling me that Abuela used to make perfume out of the rose petals. The sunny parts of the fence rows used to be covered with the wild roses but the renters didn’t take care of them. I’ve started cutting the dead parts out but it is not a job to do when it is hot. It also isn’t a job to do without chain mail and armor … those thorns are nasty.
All of the plants have given me ideas of for the Barter Bizarre. I’m thinking that if I could gather enough I might even open my own booth … but it would have to be worth my while and there would have to be people out there willing to try something new. Maybe if they get hungry enough. But what a thought that is, that people here in the US of A might get hungry enough that they’d be willing to eat weeds.
I could go on and on; you should see the pages of notes that I’ve made while going through the books. But the one thing that I think makes this hard – adding wild stuff to my food inventory – is that it takes so much time to locate and harvest enough to be worth anything. That is one of the reasons why I used the pink yarn; I was lucky to find them the first time around, I don’t want to be stumbling and wasting more time trying to find them again.
And speaking of stumbling, sounds like Cal is home. He must have tripped over something on the porch.