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Better than Homegrown: Foraged

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October 21, 2014 / Italian / By
Anna

Growing your own vegetables is becoming increasingly popular. It is so popular I am almost tempted to employ terminology from pop culture and suggest it is ‘trending’. But I won’t as that is just not my style.

I am lucky enough to have some land with young olive and fruit trees struggling to become bountiful and a productive vegetable garden. It has been a lot of work to get it to this stage as we started with exhausted grape vines that had to be removed from part of the land. Even where there had been no grapes, the land was hard-packed by the tractor activity. On top of that there was no watering system and no mains water, so rainwater collection and a well were needed, all taking time, effort and money.

Before we encircled the land on the sides nearest to the road with a moderately insubstantial fence, the few desiccated vegetables we had managed to grow in the first season were occasionally harvested by persons unknown while our backs were turned. Had it just been a few peppers, artichokes and tomatoes, we would not have minded. But the ‘forager’ preferred to make the most of the opportunity and take everything, even under-ripe vegetables.

Something had to be done and the insubstantial and, in fact, incomplete fence was what we opted for. It is still possible for invited friends to gain access to the garden. The casual and uninvited harvester could do the same with minimal effort. As far as I am aware this does not happen, and we no longer lose the whole crop in one go. An Italian friend of mine explained that the opportunistic perpetrator probably thought we were mugs for leaving the fruits of our labors so invitingly exposed.

That is one sort of forager, but there is another quite legitimate form of foraging, which is harvesting those delicious and healthy foods that grow without the aid of cultivation. When you think about it, we eat quite a limited range of foods and these have been altered over the centuries through selective breeding. A lot of people with knowledge of the local area still harvest those foods that grow unaided by human intervention.

One such forager was busy on the land next to ours at the end of September - our fence stopped her getting on to our land because had she tried to skirt the fence she would have had to get her pram over a shallow ditch. Luckily, she managed a good harvest anyway. The pram is a model from the 1970s that is serving time as a wheelbarrow-come-shopping trolley. Actually, as she is a well-known character about the village, I have seen her transport cleaning materials and buckets of water in the same pram. Being short, I think she would be hampered in her daily chores without the aid of the pram.

On this warm autumnal day, she was looking for leafy greens of the kind the tall guy (TTG) and I attack with the mower and fling into the compost. The mix featured a lot of dandelions. In fact it seemed to be all dandelions. I asked her if she was going to make salad, but no, these ingredients were destined to be cooked.

Then to my delight, two women who live in the same piazza as me were out sorting dandelion leaves together a week or so later. I knew I would get better information from them and indeed I did.

Erbe Delle Campagnola

Cut the dandelion leaves as low to the ground as you can trying to keep them attached to each other

Boil gently

Serve as a warm salad with olive oil and salt. These are quite bitter leaves, but it seems that a little bitter food is good for us.

We have also seen mushrooms on our land, but not very many. I am not sure if this is because they are only just starting to reappear after the massive assault our landscaping required or if the rest are foraged before we get to the garden.

Lastly, I am looking forward to my favorite foraging activity - the asparagus season in early spring. I had been intending to create an asparagus bed, but two things have stopped me: the difficulty of creating an asparagus bed and the deliciousness of the wild asparagus in the Umbrian region, which makes growing my own unnecessary.

My first asparagus hunt was a lengthy walk in the countryside spiced with frustration. Wild asparagus is a spikey, dark green plant. You have to be able to identify it, but the fresh asparagus shoots do not look like the bush, of course. However, they do grown very near to the mature plant. The aim is to pick the shoots while they are tender and newly emerged from the ground. I spent about an hour finding lots of mature bushes and no shoots. It was not that there weren’t any shoots; I was simple mesmerized by the mature bush and overlooking the shoots. I’m pleased to say, I eventually learned and the results were delicious. But that’s for another time.


N/A

Country: Italy

Province/State: Umbria

City: N/A

Address: N/A

Zip/Post Code: N/A

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Price Guide:N/A (What's this?) N/A = home cooked meal,etc
$ = street food, fast food,etc
$$ = bistro, cafe, pub, bar,etc
$$$ = fine dining,etc

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