For gardeners lucky enough to live in seasonal growing climates, Winter fields offer respite from intense cultivating and singular beauty that echoes growers’ time of reflection and renewal. In my neck of the Western North Carolina woods, January is not typically a productive gardening month; however, 2017 ushered in unseasonably warm temperatures after a lush snowfall, encouraging growth and offering abundant “free food” for foragers who know where to look.
Creasy Greens grow abundantly in Winter fields throughout the Southeastern US
A few days ago, as Richard and I walked through Heart & Sole Gardens’ winter fields, we made plans to plow, till and plant. We discussed where to move tall cages and noted muddy imprints that indicated a rise in deer population, probably foreshadows for a Summer crop battle. Tucked amid dried grass and the last standing popcorn stalks, we discovered a patch of lush greenery. Grabbing a basket and snippers, our hands worked to gather these crispy leaves, a type of wild cress that packs flavorful punch, along with a healthy dose of nutritional goodness.
Ingredients for fresh Creasy Greens pesto
Dependent upon preserved harvests to survive harsh mountain winters, early Appalachian settlers included cold hardy creasy greens in diets, a practice that prevented scurvy, a condition caused by lack of Vitamin C. Growing in open fields throughout the Southeastern US, creasy greens boast significant levels of Vitamins A, B, E and K, along with calcium and iron. Tender young leaves are similar in flavor to mustard, a mild heat that intensifies as the plant matures. In early spring, creasy green blossoms, tiny yellow flowers that cluster on stalks, make beautiful, edible garnishes or salad ingredients.
Creasy Greens pesto, prepared
Warm days also encouraged green garlic to produce, so I dug a few bulbs while Richard inspected some large logs we need to remove. Remnants of a creek restoration project, the walnut, cherry, poplar and locust logs will find useful purposes, but for now, they play host to another wild food. Spotting beautifully clustered caps along the logs’ undersides, Richard fetched another basket and we harvested about ten pounds of oyster mushrooms, a delicious wild delicacy.
Oyster Mushroom Cluster
Back at home, I cleaned mushrooms, washed creasy greens and removed root ends from garlic. With such fresh, tasty ingredients at hand, it is impossible to resist the urge to combine them for a meal. A few of the mushrooms were exceptionally large, perfect “crusts” for individual pizzas. Creasy greens and green garlic served as the base for pesto and I pulled some tomato sauce from the freezer, a rich concoction made when heirloom tomatoes were in season. After baking the pizzas, topped with a bit of fresh mozzarella cheese, Richard and I agreed our wild food meal was one of the best we ever had.
Increasingly popular, creasy greens seeds are now offered for sale in several seed catalogs and online sources.
• 1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted (substitute pecans or other nuts, if you like)
• 1 small green garlic, tops and bulb, chopped (2 whole garlic cloves, if green garlic is not available)
• 1/3 cup excellent olive oil
• 2 cups fresh creasy greens, washed and roughly chopped
• 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Place nuts, garlic and greens in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times to combine and add cheese. Pulse a few more times. Turn on machine and allow mixture to blend while adding olive oil in a thin stream. Continue to blend until mixture is thoroughly combined. Season with ¼ tsp. salt and about 6 grinds of black pepper.
Serve baked pizza atop fresh Rocket, aka Arugula, for fresh crunch