It’s been mild up here at The Taste of Tomorrow’s home office —cool, rainy, temps hovering in the 40s and 50s, barely a dusting of snow. Still, even with the balmy fall, I was STUNNED to get an update from my favorite micro-farmer in early December announcing that he STILL had greens.
Now, Henry Brockman, an organic farmer in Congerville, Illinois, who makes my favorite mesclun mix — and has the greatest collection of heirloom lettuces and Asian greens I have ever encountered — does not have an indoor hydroponics growing operation. He has an unheated hoop house on his farm, and he was surprised that some leafy greens had survived this late in the season.
Needless to say, it was quite a thrill to go to a farmers market on December 3rd – in the Chicago-area — and load up on freshly-picked green-anything. But the reason I’m writing this is because Henry was also offering chickweed.
Chickweed — Not for Chickens
Not a lot of people know about the pleasures of chickweed (scientific name: Stellaria media) aka Starweed aka Winterweed. Henry Brockman describes its taste as “like mache.” Many others say it tastes like corn silk (if you’ve ever tried that!). Personally, the words that come to my mind when I’m eating naked, uncooked chickweed: earthy, clean, pleasant, mild, slightly mache-y.
I love raw chickweed as part of most any salad – try it with butter lettuce and arugula, use it to add a new note to your mesclun mix. Sauteed, it’s a great stand-in for spinach. It’s widely praised as a pesto, and one forager sited introduce me to the wonders of the BCT – that’s bacon, chickweed, and tomato sandwich. Two reasons to go with a BCT over a BLT — taste, the earthy, machey chickweed pairs nicely bacon & lettuce (similar, but just different enough to keep you happy) Second: health. Chickweed is loaded with vitamins — A, D, B-complex, calcium, magnesium, niacin.
Some bad news: don’t expect to find chickweed at Whole Foods anytime soon. Or even at a good farmer’s market. It’s still pretty much a forager’s thing. But good news: it’s virtually everywhere. Check out your lawn next spring. Or if you don’t have a lawn, go to a park. (And this applies to our readers in northern Sweden and southern Patagonia – it’s everywhere) Check out the Wildman’s post on chickweed, or Green Deane’s Eat the Weeds notes on chickweed for more on distribution, spotting, etc. In brief, chickweed is a pretty good intro-to-foraging choice, because of its ubiquity and distinctive feature: a single of hairs running up the stem leaves that changes at each juncture of leaves.
ALSO, fyi, two final things: chickweed is called chickweed, because chickens apparently dig it. And second, here’s a short, highly informative Green Deane instructional video on chickweed foraging.