BY JESSICA PRENTICE
Jessica Prentice, Maggie Gosselin, and Sarah Klein created the Local Foods Wheel to help us all enjoy the freshest, tastiest, and most ecologically sound food choices month by month. Here are seven of Jessica’s seasonal favorites. You can learn more about the Local Foods Wheel and the group’s other ventures at localfoodswheel.com.
In her beautiful food memoir, Enough for All: Foods of My Dry Creek Pomo and Bodega Miwuk People, Kathleen Rose Smith describes the seasonality of seafoods in the indigenous communities she comes from. Traditionally, winter was the time to harvest many shellfish, but also sea vegetables. These foods would be collected until May, and then not again until autumn. If you go out harvesting seaweed, it helps to have a guide, as I have had a couple times, to help distinguish between the kombu, cystoseira, sea lettuce, and nori you might find. You’ll also need a license to legally harvest seaweeds, which a guide is likely to have. Returning home from one trip, we hung the kombu over the clothesline, pickled the cystoseira, and spread out the few delicate nori fronds on screens to air-dry. The sea lettuce we had eaten on the spot, straight from the sea. Of all these, nori (porphyra perforata) was the most satisfying. My son loved having a piece of nori in his lunchbox each day, and evidently we are better able to absorb the nutrients in sea vegetables if we eat them on a regular (not occasional) basis.
There is perhaps no better lunchbox vegetable than baby carrots. Unfortunately, those stubby pieces of carrot (packaged as “baby cut carrots”) are not really baby carrots, but rather are big carrots that have been ground down in big machines to a cute size that attracts us. That’s mass marketing for you. And while I agree that these shaved carrots may be an improvement over many convenience foods, I can’t help feeling sad that people are not getting to enjoy real baby carrots. Harvested young, the real thing is sweet, juicy, and adorable. Last spring when our small crop of carrots was sprouting in the garden, my five-year-old son would go out each morning and dig up one small, gnarly, and decidedly pointy carrot, then bring it in while I was assembling his lunch. I would rinse off the dirt and put the carrot straight into his lunchbox: no plastic bag, no deceptive advertising, no grinding machines in factories hundreds of miles away, and no piles of food waste. True baby carrots can also be found at the farmers’ market, especially in spring, and nothing says “spring” like cute little vegetables . . .
. . . except, perhaps, cute little eggs. Which is exactly what pullet eggs are. Any laying hen under a year of age (think teen-age) is technically a pullet, and when these young hens begin to lay, they produce smaller eggs than they will when they become full grown. These eggs are just like regular eggs, but they aren’t likely to appear at mainstream supermarkets, where most consumers want large eggs. Look for them at smaller specialty markets or farmers’ markets where customers wanting pastured eggs are more likely to shop. To use them, just think about how you might want to show off their diminutive size, like in Easter baskets. Try them baked or steamed. If you like a soft-boiled egg, cook these smaller eggs for a shorter amount of time than you would a regular sized egg. If you normally eat two eggs, consider eating three pullet eggs.
One of the great pleasures of spring in Northern California is the opportunity to munch on miner’s lettuce while walking through the shady damp areas of our wonderful bioregion. A rainy winter means there will be plenty of this juicy-fresh green. And while you can certainly harvest enough of it to bring home for a salad, or even sow its seeds in your yard for an ample crop, for me it has always been a peripatetic pleasure to pluck and consume miner’s lettuce in situ as a way of tasting the wild landscape. Miner’s lettuce got its name from the 1849-era gold miners, who appreciated its high vitamin C content as a tonic against scurvy. But like spinach, chard, and sorrel, miner’s lettuce is also high in oxalic acid, so moderation is recommended. Nutritional components aside, I relish miner’s lettuce as one of the few native wild foods that still can be found and foraged easily.
Chives are so easy to grow in your garden or in a pot that it seems a shame to buy those few stems packaged in a hard plastic clamshell, as you most often find them. They are a cinch to harvest and use. Just take your scissors or kitchen shears, snip what you need, and then snip the long tender leaves directly into a frittata, onto a baked potato, or over a soup. I love the blossoms as much as (if not more than) the tasty greens. These tiny purple blossoms are easy to pull off the head of the flowering stalk, and can be used anywhere that chives would. The flavor is similar, and the appearance is charming.
What do you get when you cross a kumquat with a lime? A limequat! Someone gave us a limequat tree a few years ago and we thoroughly enjoy it. It produces tasty diminutive limes that are perfect to squeeze into a drink. When the tree is full of fruit I also slice them thin and then dehydrate them into little dried rings that can be eaten as is or used as a garnish. Although you can eat the whole fruit, like you can a kumquat, they are a bit sour for my taste. My partner and son, on the other hand, love to pucker up!
I love love love nettles! They are just so green, both in flavor and color. They are one of those foods where I can feel the nourishment soaking down into my bones as I eat them. My favorite ways to prepare them include making a pesto (puréeing them deactivates their sting), cooking them into a frittata or quiche, and making a puréed soup like the recipe offered here. Nettles can be harvested wild, especially when we’ve had a wet winter, but I also grow them in my garden. If you decide to grow them yourself, consider their tendency to spread, as well as the fact that they sting if you touch them! An isolated, moist corner makes a great spot for nettles.
RECIPE: SPRING TONIC NETTLE SOUP