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A spring tonic
It is the best spring tonic: A trip to a rural roadside stand, foraging in the woods and fresh, flavourful, local greens to take home. If you are in the city, explore vacant lots or even cracks in the pavement -- spring greens can come from surprising places. Head home to enjoy steamed fiddleheads drizzled with lemon butter, a salad of fresh dandelion and sorrel leaves, an asparagus crepe with béchamel sauce -- topped, of course, with sprouts grown in your own kitchen.
Harbinger of spring
Let's start with a well-known harbinger of spring: asparagus. With asparagus regularly available in the grocery store, why stop to think about it now? Well, freshly picked, locally grown asparagus has a tenderness and flavour unmatched by imported product that has spent days in transit. You might be lucky enough to find a wild patch near a roadside or on an old farmstead.
A plate of weeds?
I know a farmer who is amazed by what trendy restaurants charge for plates of "weeds." Wild greens such as dandelions, chickweed, mustard greens and sorrel are well known by people who forage, but are infrequently seen for sale -- and if sold in stores, usually fetch premium prices. Some people grow "weeds" in their gardens especially for their flavour, so it is no surprise to learn that many weeds were introduced here by settlers who cultivated them. Flavour and freshness could be no farther away than your lawn or cracks in the concrete.
As local as you can get
It is hard to get a more local source than your kitchen, or get something fresher than sprouts you harvested a moment ago. With a plate, some peat, a windowsill and some bean seeds you can quickly and easily raise your own sprouts. It is inexpensive and simple to grow fresh sprouts for use in salads, sandwiches, or wherever you need something green. Visit the Vancouver-based City Farmer website to learn how to grow sprouts.
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Fiddleheads: Catch them while you can
What is green, a couple inches long, has a rolled end and is very, very tasty? That's right, a fiddlehead. Well, actually, it is a young fern shoot that resembles the head of a fiddle, the rolled end of which breaks through the soil. The taste is special, not quite like asparagus, not quite like green beans. While fiddleheads are especially well known in the Atlantic provinces, they grow across Canada. If you plan to pick your own, learn how to correctly identify the edible species. For more information, visit New Brunswick Tourism's website. If you plan to buy them, catch them while you can as the season is short, lasting less than a month in each region.
• Harvest asparagus spears by snapping off at ground level, or cutting with a knife just below soil level.
• Dandelion leaves, perhaps the best-known wild green, can be eaten fresh or cooked. Not sure how to cook them? Look for chard recipes and substitute dandelion.
• Growing sprouts is a fun way to get children interested in gardening.
• If you pick fiddleheads and find it difficult to separate the papery chaff, first soak them in water for 15 minutes.
Explore your local market, neighbourhood and backyard for some tasty and local spring greens.
A passionate gardener and a horticulturist by training, Steven Biggs has a special interest in finding, preparing and enjoying local food. His work in horticulture and agriculture spans western Canada, Ontario, Quebec and England. You can visit his website at www.stevenbiggs.ca.
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