Monday, April 4, 2016

First Home Harvests 2016

One swallow does not a summer make, the saying goes, nor does a warm, sunny day or two in March guarantee that spring is here to stay.  April came in with cold, blustery winds, lashing snow squalls, all kinds of drama from the skies.  Then a day of mellow warmth, but overnight, a hard freeze, and in the forecast, more wintry weather.  It makes for lively conversation at the dump or the hardware store, but overall, it’s pretty much same as it ever was.  Maybe there are actually regions where spring slides mildly into place in a calm and predictable progression, but this ain’t one of them….

However:  there has been enough spring-like weather that the ground has thawed, and warmed enough to push forth a few greens shoots.  Chives are always the first things to come back in the herb garden, and stinging nettles take the vanguard among the wild edibles.  I was able to gather a handful of each last evening, and we added them to a simple dinner comprised of recombined leftovers:  lentils, some chickpeas in a spicy broth, to which I added some of the excellent German wieners that we picked up at the Chetek Café.

I started by dicing up and rendering off a some homemade salt pork, and to the drippings added diced potato, carrot, some chopped celery and shallot.  Browned off the sliced wieners and then in went the lentils, chickpeas and broth.  Simmered for 10 minutes, until the potatoes were just cooked through.  Then just before serving I brought it back up to a simmer and added the chopped nettles—baby nettle tips, really, the most delectable kind of nettles.

I enjoyed the fact that lentils and nettles are almost anagrams.  And we enjoyed immensely a warm and comforting plate of food that far transcended any usual notion of leftovers.  I sprinkled some chopped chives over the soup, and they added a fresh, vibrant pop—the first chives of the year are definitely the best.  They had me thinking a baked potato dinner later in the week might be a good idea.

Chives also went into a simple salad dressing along with—get this—Wisconsin-grown Meyer lemon.  You read that right.  On a quick getaway to Madison this past weekend we visited the Dane County winter farmers market.  And while this indoor market is a tiny fraction the size of the magnificent summer market that sprawls all around the capitol square, its grass-roots populism making a mockery of the craven shenanigans that miserably unfold beneath the capitol dome (ahem), there was still lots of great meat, cheese, and produce.  We didn’t buy a lot, but came away with some beautiful lettuce and a Meyer lemon that we purchased from a honey vendor.  It came from a tree that I think he said was planted in 1964, in a pot, of course, to shelter indoors during the Wisconsin winter.  Not exactly the kind of thing you expect to find at a northern winter farmers market, but a lovely surprise.  We were lucky to be at the market early enough to score one.

The first green harvests are always such a delight, even if they are small, scarcely more than garnish.  A chef writing in the New York Times recently, trying to sell the idea that hard, pink, winter tomatoes were worth your money and cooking efforts, went so far as to argue that we live in a “post-seasonal world."  Uhn-uhn, chef, you’re wrong.  Maybe you live in a non-seasonal food world, but only because you’re not looking, or trying, hard enough.  Out here in the frigid sticks, the "seasonal world" is pretty hard to avoid.  Not that I would want to.

Text and photos copyright 2016 by Brett Laidlaw


Unknown said...

Thank you for the term "recombined leftovers". Sounds so much better than "just some stuff I found in the refrigerator that we need to eat soon!" We're starting to eat nettles, chives, and garlic mustard down our way.

Trout Caviar said...

Cheers, Judy! I picked a bit of garlic mustard second week of March. It is making steady northward incursions and would seem to be unstoppable. I just wish I liked it better! Any sign of ramps yet? I usually find some big enough to harvest in the Whitewater area by mid-April. Best~ Brett

TrondB said...


Asking permission to use picture:

"smoked chunk. jpg"

In article about smoked deermeat

Trond B