Introduction to Greens

Leaves. We eat them raw in salads and cooked in all kinds of dishes, getting strength from their vitamins as Popeye did. Basically, greens are edible-leaved plants. They're all annuals—or biennials and perennials planted each year from seed as if they were annuals—because the tender new leaves are the best.

Climate/Time of Year: Climate and the time of year you want to harvest are factors in choosing what greens to plant. Some—endive, kale, lettuce, mustard, and spinach— do best if planted in early spring or in late fall but don't do well in hot weather, unless they get a lot of shade. If you live where summers are very hot, then chard, collards, and New Zealand spinach are best, although even they may need some shade if it's too hot.

Winter Greens. Most salad greens grow best in spring and fall, but it is possible to have salad year-round if you grow the right greens in the right way. Harold Okubo wrote me from West Jordan, UT, about his experience with winter greens: "We have always tried to produce most of our food at home. I have an advantage over most people as I'm a commercial truck farmer (Japanese origin). There are ways to have some green leaf crops most of the winter. Like spinach—if you drill a patch about August 15 in this area, by September 30 it will be large enough, and it will be good all winter. You can plant leaf and head lettuce in the fall of the year and let the young seedlings winter over. The

The most important thing is to know if you're saving seed from an annual (spinach, lettuce) or a biennial (beets, turnips, chard, kale, col-lards, Chinese cabbage). In the case of spinach, the plant stops putting energy into making leaves and instead puts up a long stalk. We say it is "bolting." It will flower on top of the stalk, and where each flower

Saving Greens Seed was, seed will come. Maybe they call it "bolting" because with spinach and lettuce it seems to happen fast. It isn't any use trying to harvest greens if they have started to bolt.

When saving seed from plants like spinach and lettuce, be choosy about which plants you save it from. You want one of the last to go to seed rather than one of the first, which is difficult to manage if you are basically raising it for a food crop rather than a seed crop.

Most of the greens seeds have good longevity. Lettuce, endive, kale, collard, and Chinese cabbage seeds keep well for 5 years; chard and mustard green seeds keep well for 4 years.

lettuce will be ready to eat by April or May. If you put a plastic tent over some, it will be earlier yet." EE. Pennington, Kelso, WA, wrote me: "Let turnips or rutabagas live through the winter. When they start sprouting in February or March, getting ready to go to seed, pick those little sprouts of 2 or 3 inches. They make the finest greens in the world and are the first green thing you can get from the garden. They must be picked twice a week and are good for a month or 6 weeks—unless your area is so cold that they freeze out." (For more on this, see entries for individual greens in this chapter and the "Undercover Gardening" section in Chapter 2.)

Classification of Greens: Seems like, at the end of each of the 25 years since I started this book, there've been even more greens than before: old-fashioned leafy greens, leafy parts of other vegetables that can be cooked as greens, wild greens made tame, imports from every continent on earth (America, Africa, Asia, Europe), and tropical greens like Malabar spinach and chaya, a spinach that grows on trees. How to sort them out? I looked at the same problem 25 years ago and simplified by dividing the greens into 2 basic groups: lettuces, usually eaten raw, and spinach types, usually eaten cooked.

Now that system is too narrow and simple. There are so many leafy greens, so many odd ones; some are just slight variations on old themes, true, but others are wildly different. Back then I took my country roots and country-girl identity so seriously that I would have been insulted by the suggestion that I lean on Latin botanical classifications. I was inclined to hide the fact that I had had 8 years of college and an A in botany before I married Mike and we went back to our rural roots in the West. Then I liked hanging out with country old-timers who had another kind of literacy. I wanted so much to learn everything they knew that wasn't written down anywhere and get it recorded before they were all gone. I soaked up not only their verbal style but also some of their prejudices.

Now I'm not only older but, I hope, wiser, with more perspective on the sources and varieties of knowledge. Wise enough that I'm grateful for the labor of generations of humble, anonymous plant classifiers who have painstakingly sorted all these green leaves out into their respective families. It's also helpful to group the plant relatives because they tend to have similar cultivation needs and kitchen uses. That saves repeating tedious instructions. For example, the brassicas and goosefoots are more often cooked. The chicories are as likely to be eaten cooked as raw. The dandelion/lettuce family members are usually presented raw as salad. If I couldn't think about and present these grouped into those botanical families, I don't know how I would make sense of it all—either to myself, or for you. The Green Groups

I. Non-Brassicas

A. The carpetweed: New Zealand spinach

B. The chicories: endive, escarole, radicchio, and witloof

C. The dandelion/lettuce group: dandelion and 4

lettuces—butterhead, crisphead, looseleaf, and romaine

D. The goosefoot greens: amaranth, beet greens, Good

King Henry, lamb's-quarters, Malabar spinach, orach, purslane, sea purslane, spinach, Swiss chard, and water spinach

E. The sagebrush tribe's entry: edible chrysanthemum F The only edible valerian: corn salad

II. Brassicas

A. The cabbagy brassicas: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and

Chinese cabbage

B. The edible flower-bud and stem brassicas: broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, raab, and sea kale

C. The leafy brassicas: collards, cress, kale, mizuna, mustard, rape, rocket, turnip greens, tyfon, and watercress

There are some additional greens that are essentially used as flavoring agents rather than a main dish. If they seemed to me to be flavoring herbs rather than basic salad greens (coriander, parsley, etc.), or wild species rather than domesticated (nettle, poke salet, etc.), I discussed them in Chapter 5. But I put dandelion here with its lettuce relatives.

Harvesting, Cooking, and Preserving Greens

Harvesting. There are 2 different ways: by cutting off the whole plant about 2 or 3 inches above the ground, and by picking only the outside leaves and leaving the center ones to develop. If you cut off chard, endive, lettuce, mustard, and spinach the first way, they'll grow back just like grass. But for collards, kale, and New Zealand spinach, you must do it the second way. Take those outer leaves by cutting with a scissors or snapping them off by hand. If you keep up with them, you'll keep the outer leaves tender. If they get ahead of you, the outer leaves are likely to get tough. In that case, give them to chickens, cows, etc., and go in another layer to get the now-tender ones.

Or you can harvest whole plants of either type by thinning. All greens need enough space for some air to circulate

If you have clean salt water, consider reading Sea Vegetables by Evelyn McConnaughey. It's a guide to har-

Seaweeds vesting and cooking seaweeds that covers their classification, propaga tion, preservation, vitamin contents, and uses (fertilizer, fodder, etc.).

between them. That allows them to dry off after a wetting. Plants that are thickly pressed together and can't dry off are much more likely to have disease or insect problems. Cooking. Which greens to eat cooked is really a matter of opinion. Some people eat anything and everything raw. Some greens you can eat raw at one stage or in small amounts, but at maturity (or over-maturity!) or in quantity you'll definitely want to cook them. An advantage of cooked greens is that you can preserve them by canning, freezing, or drying. You grow your big crop in the summer and preserve it, and then you're done for the year.

To cook greens, first wash your leaves. Boil with or without salt (I don't use it). To add flavor, use water in which meat or vegetables have been cooked. Or serve buttered and peppered. Or with vinegar. Or season with bacon drippings, salt, and hot sauce. Mustard, kale, and turnip greens are specially good cooked in the water in which the meat has cooked and then served with the meat. Here are some great recipes for cooked greens.

<i> SIMPLE HOMESTEAD SPRING DINNER MENU Gather 2 lb. of some early greens. Steam or boil to tenderness. In a frying pan heat 2 T. butter. Stir in 3 T. flour and brown the four. Add the water from cooking your greens and mix well to make a sauce. Serve greens, "gravy," boiled potatoes, and boiled (or fried) eggs.

<i> MASHED POTATO/GREENS CASSEROLE Steam 3 c. chopped greens plus a handful of chopped onions (green or globe) until tender. Layer in a casserole dish with leftover mashed potatoes. Bake at 375"F until heated through. Slice cheese on top and continue heating until it melts. Serve.

RICE/GREENS Simmer 3 c. chopped cooking greens in 2 c. stock or soup broth until tender. Add I or 2 c. leftover cooked rice (brown or white), and continue heating until warmed through. Add I t. butter or oil, salt and pepper, stir, and serve.

<i> GREENS ROLL-UPS Steam A lb. cooking greens. Then chop coarsely. Add c. chopped onion, c. chopped bell pepper, I T. oregano, 6 oz. tomato paste, and Vi t each of paprika and garlic powder. This is the filling. For the wrappers, make a dough of 3 c. whole wheat flour and I c. water (like noodle dough). Knead and divide in 10 pieces. Roll each piece into a square Vi inch thick Spoon filling onto wrappers. Fold over the 2 diagonally opposite corners (the filling should be in a diagonal down the center, with the other 2 corners folded over, so it sort of spills out at the open sides). Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes until crust is golden. From Ruth of Bonaire.

Step-by-Step Greens Freezing

1. Wash off bugs and dust from leaves. Put a big pan of water on to boil. (I bring greens into the house by the

2. Cut in lengths of about 2lh inches.

3. Drop a load of greens into the boiling water. Let boil 3 minutes. (You can also blanch by steaming or even stir-frying!)

4. Scoop greens into a colander to drain. (I fish the greens out of the water using 2 potato mashers, the same way I do corn on the cob, one masher on each side.)

5. Hold under running cold water just long enough so that you can handle them. Or cool (immediately!) in ice water.

6. Pack in baggies, squeeze out most of the air, and fasten the neck with one of those little wires or tie it in a knot. Pack enough chard in the baggie for 1 meal for your family.

7. Immediately put in the freezer.

8. When you want to eat frozen greens, just turn out the frozen lump into a little water. Thaw and heat. Either butter them or serve them with vinegar.

Drying. If you have a choice, I think freezing is the best way to keep greens, but more can be done with dried greens than you might think. To dry spinach, beet tops, Swiss chard, or any other greens, start by making sure they are well washed and the roots are cut away and discarded. You'll have better results with young leaves than with old ones. If the stems seem thick, separate them out and discard, or dry them separately, because stems take longer to dry than leaves do. Slice both the leaf stalks and stems into sections about % inch long, spread out on your drying screens or trays, and dry. They're done when they crumble easily into your hand.

To use dried greens, pour boiling water over and then simmer, covered, until tender. Or crumble into soup or sauce; finely grind dried greens and add to anything from soup to salad; or use it mixed with other dried vegetable powders to make instant vegetable soup. You can use it like a seasoning powder too.

Canning Loose-Leafed Greens. It is safer and tastier to freeze greens than to can them. If you do can, you must use a pressure canner. Choose fresh, tender greens. Wash and cull out bad leaves. Remove tough stems and midribs. Make sure you have rinsed away all the dirt. Blanch by steaming, briefly boiling, or stir-frying until wilted. Loosely pack hot greens into hot jars. Optional: Add V* t. salt per pint, Vi t. per quart. Pour over enough boiling water to cover, but leave 1 inch headspace. Process in pressure canner: pints 70 minutes, quarts 90 minutes. If using a weighted-gauge canner, set at 10 lb. pressure at 0-1,000 feet above sea level; at higher altitudes, set at 15 lb. If using a dial-gauge canner, set at 11 lb. pressure at 0-2,000 feet above sea level; 12 lb. at 2,001-4,000 feet; 13 lb. at 4,001-6,000 feet; 14 lb. at 6,001-8,000 feet; or 15 lb. above 8,000 feet. salad Making: In season we have salad every day. I send the children out to the garden to cut lettuce and pull a few green onions. My mother taught me to tear the lettuce with my fingers for the salad rather than cut it. So I tear it into pieces after washing and patting it dry inside a fuzzy towel. (Not all the way dry, of course, but near enough.) Then I add the young green onions, chopped fine; radishes, sliced thin; and dressing. Or grated peeled turnip. Some grated cabbage or carrot, too, or beets if I feel like it and have the vegetables. I use the part of the grater that makes long thin slivers.

A combination of different kinds of leaf lettuce, fresh from the garden, is delicious and full of vitamins. And you can add so many different things: chunks of garden tomato or grated green peppers, chopped green onion, or grated carrot. For salad dressing I usually make a mixture of two-thirds salad oil and one-third vinegar, and then add salt and garlic salt. For fancier dressings I add a little lemon juice, pepper, or a pinch of dry mustard. If you add any kind of seafood, pour on some lemon juice and use a mayonnaise dressing.

When people come up to me and say, "I hear you're writing a cookbook," I scarcely know what to say because what I really feel like is a noncook. My own personal cooking style is to cook foods as simply and quickly as possible. My great aim is just to somehow keep the 6 other mouths in this family so busy chewing that they can't complain. It's plain old-fashioned cooking. Lots of everything but nothing fancy. I've never made a pie in my life. Someday I'm going to. I'd really like to if I could just get around to it. I have made maybe a thousand loaves of bread—I've no idea how many. That's the staff of life here. That, and plain meat and gravy, potatoes, cooked vegetables, and the salad in season. Homemade Salad Dressings. Next is a section on salad dressings. After that you'll find a section on how to make mayonnaise. This may seem like a strange place to put it, because you don't put mayonnaise on a tossed salad unless it also contains seafood, chicken, meat, eggs, or some such. But where else in this book would you put mayonnaise?

I make all my own salad dressings. Mine don't taste nearly as exotic as the store ones to me, but Mike claims they are much better. I don't offer much variety in the salad dressing department either. It's usually a vinegar and oil dressing, a wilted lettuce dressing, or homemade mayonnaise. Herbwise, though, I'm liable to throw in anything, and that really flavors them up.

For dressings for potato salad, see "Potatoes" under "Starchy Roots." For coleslaw dressing, see "Cabbage" under "The Wonderful, Motley Brassica Horde."

TWO-QUARTS SALAD DRESSING Mix together I qt buttermilk and I qt. mayonnaise. Use wire whip or spoon, not a blender. Add I T. salt Ai t. garlic powder, I T. dry onion (or fresh), Ai t pepper, I T. dried parsley, Ai t. dry mustard, dash of red pepper, I T. chopped capers, and 'A t. celery salt. Stir to mix well. Keep in refrigerator.

<i> BLUE CHEESE DRESSING Add 3 or 4 oz. blue cheese and I T. lemon juice to I cup of Two-Quarts Salad Dressing (see preceding recipe).

If you want to eat raw greens other than lettuce, I recommend a wilted lettuce dressing because they are mostly on the strong side. I use lettuce for green salads and cook other greens.

cP> WILTED LETTUCE DRESSING My mother's regular salad dressing was wilted lettuce dressing. That's because she had lard but not oil, and this is one kind of salad dressing that uses lard. It's a delicious salad dressing, one that you can vary in many ways. You can fry bacon or side meat to get your lard and then crumble the bacon or cooked meat bits into the salad. That's the best tasting. But you can also start out with straight lard. I usually thicken my wilted lettuce dressing with egg yolks. If you make a small amount of dressing, it doesn't actually wilt the lettuce; it just dresses it If you make a lot and pour it over hot it does wilt the lettuce, but it tastes good that way too.

Use about I lb. greens. This is great for any greens, including the stronger, tougher ones like New Zealand spinach. Wash and pat dry. Fry about 5 slices bacon that have been cut into little pieces. (You can use lard or any other oil, if you don't have bacon or do like lard.) Take out the bacon and all the grease but about 2 T. Add 3 T. vinegar and 2 T. sour cream. Blend I t flour with an egg (not in a blender) and stir into pan mixture. Add A21 salt and I T. sugar or the equivalent in honey. When the salad dressing is thickened and is boiling hot pour it over your greens. Add crumbled bacon, toss a moment to mix, and serve immediately. This dressing has to be poured hot on the lettuce or it doesn't taste right Serve immediately. You can enrich with mustard and onion salt It's also good on leaf lettuce (as opposed to head lettuce).

<P> FRENCH DRESSING This is our quick and easy, favorite dressing on fresh garden lettuce. Wash about I qt lettuce and pat dry inside a towel. Tear into pieces. Mix A c. oil, I T. vinegar, about I T. lemon juice, A31. salt and Ai t. garlic salt Toss with lettuce and serve.

<i> LOW-CAL GARDEN FRENCH DRESSING Puree together A c. tomato juice, 2 T. lemon juice, I T. onion, I T. green pepper, I T. honey, V* t salt a pinch pepper, and I clove garlic. Chill at least an hour.

<i> CLASSY ITALIAN DRY MIX FOR SALAD DRESSING You can make this ahead of time and then mix for your salad as needed. Combine A3 c. any grated dry cheese and I T. each of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, celery seeds, and sesame seeds. Optional: Add other herbs or dry mustard. Mix well and store airtight.

To make a salad, combine I T. of your Classy Mix with A c. vinegar and A c. oil. For a low-calorie dressing, leave out the oil. Or combine I T. mix with A c. mayonnaise, A c. unfavored yogurt or !4 c. sour cream. For more of a salad-dressing consistency, add 2 T. water and shake energetically in a covered container.

SOUR CREAM DRESSING You can still make a nice dressing without the above herbs by mixing I c. sour cream,

2 T. lemon juice, 2 T. vinegar, 'A t. dry mustard, a grind of pepper, and Vi t. salt

Homemade Mayonnaise. I've never really understood just what makes a person decide to send me a particular recipe, but I can sure tell you for a fact that they come in bunches. I've gotten more letters with ideas for preventing gas from dried beans, remedies for wasp stings, and recipes for zucchini breads and zucchini pickles than anything else. But running a close second to these are recipes for homemade mayonnaise! Which from now on I'm calling "mayo" 'cause I can spell that.

Traditionally mayo is made with eggs. But raw eggs can be the source of salmonella poisoning, so I'm including only eggless recipes.

W> EGGLESS MAYO "In a blender, combine 3 T. lemon juice, I T. dry mustard, and 2 chopped garlic cloves until blended. Then, while the blender whirls, dribble from a cup of vegetable oil, drop by drop, until the mayonnaise has thickened. (You might not need a whole cupful of oil.) This makes only a bit more than a cup. The garlic and mustard do the work of the egg yolks. Don't try to reduce the recipe or it won't work." From Ruth of Bonaire.

W> NATURAL HYGIENE MAYO Blend 2 c. seed cheese (for recipe, see beginning of "Flower Seeds" section) with a chopped scallion, a chopped cucumber, I t kelp powder, and/or I T. tamari. Blend about 2 minutes till smooth and creamy. From Ruth.

TOFU MAYO (SOYNAISE) Using a blender, blend I c. soft tofu with 2 T. lemon juice, I t. tamari, I T. frozen apple juice concentrate or honey, and a pinch of garlic powder. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides of blender jar. You may need to add water, depending on how firm or soft the tofu was to begin with. From Ruth. Mayo-Based Salad Dressings. Making your own mayonnaise is just the beginning of good things. Then comes homemade Tartar Sauce for your fishwiches and homemade Thousand Island Dressing for salads.

^ THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING Combine I c. mayonnaise, A4 c. ketchup or chili sauce or some tomato stuff, 2 t. parsley, I T. finely chopped onion, a cut-up hard-boiled egg, 2 T. cut-up fine green pepper (if you have it), and Vi t. sweet basil or dill. If you don't have all that don't worry; make it with what you have. Taste to see if it needs more salt pepper, or anything else.

^ TAHINI ISLAND DRESSING This is Ruth of Bonaire's veggie version of Thousand Island Dressing: "Chop about 2 c. tomatoes and whirl in blender with some minced onion, minced dill pickles, and maybe some garlic. Then add the juice of I/2 lemon and 2-3 T. tahini (or as much as you want) to thicken it to salad-dressing consistency."

TARTAR SAUCE The simplest way is to add A4 c. chopped pickles and I T. capers to I c. mayonnaise. Or use only I T. chopped pickle and add, in addition to the capers and mayo, I t onion juice and a dash of dry mustard. Or to your cup of homemade mayo, add I t each chopped green onion, green olives, parsley, and pickles and I T. tarragon vinegar.

February 7,1977. Back when I was reading books instead of writing one, I used to wonder so much about the people who wrote them—what they were like, what things were like when they were writing. I'm sitting here in a not-very-clean orange bathrobe. It's one of 3 things left in the house that I can still get into because I'm 9-plus months pregnant, running overdue as usual. I'm sitting on the side of my bed in moccasins typing at a little desk my mother bought me to study at when I was in high school—wow, does that ever seem a long time ago. The big front drawer of it is missing. Probably some kid or other dragged it away to play with and lost it years ago, but the top still works fine to hold the typewriter. Dolly, Danny, and Becca are all in school now. Luke and Sara are tumbling all around me playing their games—now on top of the bed, now under the covers, now under the bed! Their noises are happy noises, and that's what matters. Mike is out working. This is the year of our tenth anniversary and it's the best yet.

That sounds like a glib phrase. It's more than that. The fact is that our first years together were awful, just awful, in any category you want to name. It took us years to learn how to live the love that got us married in the first place and then seemed to simply get buried forever under the debris of everyday living and its problems. We toughed out all those years mainly because both of us really wanted to stay married on the principle of it if nothing else, because children have a right to both their parents, because we never gave up at the same time, and because deep down inside we loved each other even when all we could find or feel was hate. Over years and years there were so many times I stood in the doorway and pleaded to him, "Please don't go." And there were times when I cried and stormed and said, "I can't take it anymore and you can just go!" But I never, never told him to leave at the same moment he was saying he wanted to leave. It was like we got to take turns giving up, but at least one person hanging on was enough to keep it going.

I'm telling you that in case you think I'm a saint who never did anything wrong or crazy, who never had a problem that lasted more than 5 minutes. But aging has its blessings, like every crisis and every suffering: Slowly we learned about each other, learned to accept each other for what we were, and learned not to keep a head full of bad stuff about what he or she isn't or what happened last week, last month, or last year. Forgiveness is one of the basics that nourish love. If one of you has to forgive the other for the more spectacular sins, the other may have to forgive you for being dull and self-righteous. A lifetime is a long time to try to live together, and if you think your boat is never going to rock, that's unreal. You're going to go through all kinds of horrible real-life nightmares, and you're going to survive them, come out better, and be able to look back and see that, in a way, the hard times were blessings.

Next come all the non-brassica greens, in their family groups. The leafy brassicas lead the all-brassica section after that.

Continue reading here: The Carpetweed

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