© by Kat Morgenstern
Winter is a tough time for foragers stuck in a northern climate zone. Leaves have fallen and are buried underneath the snow. Berries, if there are any left in the bushes, tend to look wrinkled and listless. Nuts have long been gathered and stored for later use and those that were left on the ground are now riddled with worms. What is a forager to do? Well, the first and best thing is to make a beeline for the pantry, where hopefully, you will find jars filled with delicious remnants of last summer's delights. Jams, pickles and chutneys will bring back happy memories of roaming through the countryside, picking the gifts of the Earth for drearier times to come - like these drab old winter days.
Each happy mouthful of these treasures will set you dreaming, not just reminiscing about the joys of the past, but also of those to come. Winter Solstice is here, and that means, even though it does not seem like it, that spring is nearer than we think. Another 3 months at the most and we'll be off again, picking salad herbs and enjoying the first gifts of spring.
Though those of us, who don't live in the permafrost zone may be lucky enough to find a few things that are hardy even through the winter. The cresses, for example, are classic northern plants, perfectly adapted to such inhospitable climatic conditions.
Most notably I am thinking of the wintercress, Barbarea vulgaris, a rocket with typical rocket leaves and flowers. If the climate is not too severe, this plant can be found and collected throughout the winter. Sometimes it even stays green underneath the snow. Wintercress is rich in vitamin C and A, and was a typical 'anti-scurvy' plant in the days before vitamin C became readily available throughout the year in northern climate zones. If you don't spot its large-leaved, deeply lobed rosette in the winter months, you will probably notice it as one of the first herbs that pop up in spring.
The leaves are best before the plant starts to flower while they are still young and tender. At this stage they can be chopped up and added to salads like rucola, which has a similar tang. As they get older they get tougher, quite bitter and tangier, but can still be used like a spinach type vegetable. Although this makes for quite a mouthful of intense flavour if served by itself, it is a great herb to add to other, blander potherbs to which they add a little zing. Some people recommend boiling the herb in several changes of water, but I think that would destroy much of their nutritional benefit. Better to use less and blend with other, less flavourful herbs.
The cress family has quite a range of herbs to offer to the forager, all of which start popping up early in the season and prove to be pretty weather resistant. Other herbs in this family to look out for are hedge mustard, which looks pretty similar, or wild radish, which has white flowers, and watercress.
Here is a good page to help with watercress identification:
Barbarea vulgaris ID
Blend the egg and the mayonnaise to make a paste, add the onion, wintercress, salt and pepper. If you don't like mayonnaise try crème fraiche, instead.
Wash and chop the wintercress. Sauté with the minced onion and spices with just a little butter. Add small amount of bullion if need be.
Chop up the wintercress, slice tomatoes, mince the onion and garlic, and cut the mozzarella into cubes. Mix well and serve with a simple vinaigrette.
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