Saturday, January 3, 2009

January Greens

I had cleavers with my black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

Black-eyed peas are a traditional item on that day—I’m told they represent luck, and sometimes money, at least if someone cooked them with a penny in the pot. The cleavers came out of my (well, the apartment’s) flowerbed. And I don’t know what they’re supposed to symbolize in this case, except that the weather’s being a tad bit odd even for here. Cleavers are a spring weed! Among the earliest of edible greenstuffs, they were widely appreciated for that reason in the days before all food came from the grocery store*. Old European herbals list “spring tonics” for health and beauty consisting largely of eating all the cleavers (Galium aparine) you could find for a week, and the modern urban forager/wildcrafter folks still list it as a cleansing/tonic herb.

While the attribute from which they take their common name makes cleavers no one’s favorite raw vegetable, a brief blanching subdues their clinging hairs while maintaining most of their nutrients, so that’s what I did with my first-of-the-year trove. Stir-frying works fairly well, too, especially with black sesame oil added after cooking. One of these days I may try some a la wilted lettuce salad, if it’s going to keep popping up for the next few months. Typically its season lasts about five weeks from first appearance, but typically, that first appearance is sometime after Valentine’s and before St. Patrick’s Day.

Why clutter up my (mostly) bokashi blog with a post about a foodstuff I didn’t even plant? Because it’s not time for cleavers yet. I’m a gardener, though a landless one; weather matters to me. Not, granted, as much as to a farmer, but still. Some plants want to be sowed only after all danger of frost has passed. Other seeds, I may need to stick in the freezer for a few weeks. Pyracantha should only be harvested after a sustained hard freeze—have the few dips below 32 we’ve had been enough, or too much? Should I give up on plans for firethorn sauce this year?

And what about the curing and composting bokashi? I have a batch of compost-amended soil that should be ready at the end of this month, and a minimal-soil experiment that looks like it will be, though I’d intended it to be just-in-time for this year’s first planting. When is that in a clime where an afternoon in the mid-seventies can be followed by snow, Christmas is shirtsleeve-weather, and the first heralds of spring show up for New Years Day?

I’d planned on hydroponic lettuce and herbs so I could have greens in February, but right now, I’m tempted to direct-sow those seeds into soil. There’s no way this glorious springlike temperature will remain, though. there?

All the weather changes lately are making me queasy. Does that make my skin a January green?


*Yes, I know it doesn’t. But too many of my fellow citizens don’t seem to. Which is a subject for another post [read: rant] or three.

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