While we anticipate the regional greenhouses and fields to produce in earnest, we are already enjoying an ephemeral bounty from forest and stream with wild-crafted watercress, nettles, and ramps. Harvested by trusted and familiar P6 farmers from Keewaydin and Harmony Valley farms (both in Wisconsin), these wild-crafted plants are nutrient dense, distinctly flavorful, and fleeting.
Watercress is a semi-aquatic perennial that grows in clean, flowing waters. A member of the Cruciferae family (think kale, mustard greens, arugula) watercress has a verdant brightness with a gentle bite. Watercress is high in vitamins A, C, E and K, calcium, iron and potassium, as well as numerous trace minerals and phytochemicals. To take full advantage of these robust nutrients, eat watercress raw. Add to salads and sandwiches or use as a bed for grilled or baked fish.
Many may have unpleasant memories of the stinging sensation brought on by a brush with nettles and would be full of surprise to hear that when prepared correctly they are both safe to eat and nutritious. Nettles are high in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium and vitamins A and C. Prepare nettles by rinsing and discarding the stems. Plunge the leaves in a pot of boiling water and cook until slightly wilted (2-4 minutes). Drain and press gently to remove excess water. Add to egg dishes or substitute for basil to create a woodland pesto.
Ramps are wild allium found in wooded landscapes of eastern North America and Canada. Their broad, flat leaves are milder than the bulb - the flavor of which is equal parts onion and garlic and can be quite pungent. If you enjoy this flavor, eat ramps raw –add to salads or garnish meats and fish. If raw ramps are too strong, cooking takes a little of the edge off. Brush with olive oil and grill or chop and add to egg dishes.
Pick up these spring ephemerals while they are still available as their days are numbered. On the horizon is rhubarb and hopefully wild-crafted morels.
4 TBSP butter
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 medium gold potato peeled and diced
2 cups hot water
2 cups creamy milk (1 cup whole milk, 1 cup cream) brought to a boil
9oz chopped wild greens (nettle*, watercress, dandelion, ramps)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large saucepan until it foams. Add diced onion and potatoes – stir until well coated. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low heat for 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened. Add hot water and boiled milk. Return to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes are fully cooked. Add the greens and cook uncovered for 2-3 minutes. Do not overcook at this point or the soup will lose its bright green color. Blend and serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil. If prepared in advance chill quickly after blending to retain the color.
*the nettles will cook in the soup so there is no need to prepare them in a hot bath beforehand
(adapted from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen)