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July 27, 2010

Top Ten free foods

purslaneAfter a vacation, and then two busy weeks back at work, my vegetable garden kind of got away from me.

The Pink Beauty and cherry tomatoes are doing great, but so are the weeds.

I felt bad about that until I read a recent discussion on the Google group Baltimore Food Makers. Someone was seeking the identity of the mystery vegetable that had arrived with her weekly CSA allotment. She sent along a photograph of the unknown greenery.

Purslane, a tasty and healthful weed good in salads, came the answer. 

Turns out that's my weed. Or one of them anyway.

I tried my first bite yesterday, a little wary that it might turn out to be a highly toxic purslane lookalike. I survived the nibble, and found it pleasantly crisp and peppery.

Which brings me to this week's list:

Top Ten free foods 

No. 1: Purslane

No. 2: Dandelion greens

No. 3: Mushrooms

You have to know what you're doing with this one or you'll wind up dead.

No. 4: Blackberries

My husband, kids, a niece and I had a memorable feast on wild blackberries we came across on a bike ride two summers ago. The fruit was so wonderful that I went out and bought two blackberry bushes the next spring. One of them hasn't done much, but the other has grown like crazy. I picked a good-sized bowlful of berries the other day and they're still coming. I know those blackberries aren't exactly free, since I paid for the bushes, but considering what the fruit cost in the market, they're a deal.

No. 5: Raspberries

My neighbor has a bush. We only have a few, but they're wonderful right off the bush. The ones in the supermarket package always seem to have mold.

No. 6: Apricots

Another neighbor had a  pair of apricot trees. Unfortunately, one of them died, and for some varieties of apricots, it takes two to tango. (More about tree sex here.) Now my best shot at free apricots is to go to the West Baltimore MARC station farmers' market just before noon on Saturdays and buy the fruit from the vendor. He usually throws in extras free because it's closing time and, sadly enough, there haven't been many customers all day.

No. 7: Figs

Yet another neighbor has a tree. The neighborhood fox gets in on the free fruit, too. We saw him get up on two legs one time to have a munch.

No. 8: Whole Foods/Trader Joe's trash bins

I couldn't do it, but the high-end Dumpster divers are out there. 

No. 9: Wild onions

They're all over the yard. Why not?

No. 10: Mixed drinks

I have an expert-mixologist neighbor who puts out a flag emblazoned with cocktail glasses whenever he's out on his side porch having happy hour, which is pretty often.

My purslane, I think. (Unlike George Costanza, I don't have a future as a hand model.) Photo by math-hubby


Posted by Laura Vozzella at 5:25 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


I understand foraging is all the rage. I would be extremely careful about eating anything gathered unless I knew it had not been treated with weed killer or other chemicals.

You have a lot of neighbors

Luckily I have blackberries to share with them. LV

Seriously? That's crap is edible? I have it ALL OVER my lawn right now! Never had it before and it is invasive as all get out. I'm doing everything that I can to get rid of it...

Re: No. 2: Many years ago as proud and brand-new homeowner, I spent one hot summer day --ALL day--diligently uprooting the blanket of dandelions on my lawn. By 3 pm I was dirty and tired but happy and quite pleased with myself and the pile of dead dandies I'd accumulated. I showered and rode up to Belvedere square for some fresh veggies and something to throw on the grill for supper. (This was in the late 80's, and back then there were two green-grocers in the Belvedere Square market.) The first thing I saw at the vegetable stand was a bushel basket full of green bunches of leaves. The sign on the basket? Dandelion greens/$1.25 lb.

I seem to have been weeding the heck out of the purslane in our vegetable garden. I'm going to have to investaigate this.

is *that* what that stuff is?!

Ugh! Please to be coming over to my lawn and taking as much as you can. It's everywhere, invasive and I can't stand it.

I never want to see it again.

Just a reminder - if you use commercial weed & feed or other pesticides/insecticides on your yard, - eat at your own risk.

A few years back, we planted a couple of raspberry bushes along our shed. Unfortunately, there was just not enough sun back there, and they didn't do well, so we ended up pulling them out. When I told my grandmother this, she said, "I had the same problem many years ago when we lived in the old house on Glenmore Avenue. We had a dozen bushes for years, and never got a single berry!" To which I replied, "I remember those bushes, and you got tons of berries! I just would stand out there and eat them all!" (I was probably 6 years old at the time, and would spend the summers with her.) She was stunned, and made me go buy her a quart of raspberries. God, I miss her.

Dawn - When did your grandmother live on Glenmore? My greatgrandmother and aunt lived on Evergreen two blocks from Glenmore and I also spent summers with them and played with all the neighhood kids.

That was about 1953 to 1958

Thanks for the pesticide/fertilizer warning, Dave. We don't put anything on our lawn, so we're safe from everything -- but weeds.

A 7-year-old girl from down the street was over playing with my daughter recently, and the subject of lawn treatments somehow came up.

My daughter mentioned that we don't use any stuff on our lawn because it winds up in the bay, where it hurts the fish. Her friend replied that she was aware of that problem from her after-school environmental club, but she was puzzled about something.

A company comes out and regularly sprays her lawn. She wondered how we'd avoided such a fate.

She asked: "How do you get them to stop?"

Great list, though heavy on botanicals. I have a free food source that I see in my backyard just about every day through the summer: bunny rabbits. My daughter loves to watch them frolic and gambol through the purslane; I look at them and see protein.

Now, I've never actually attempted to procure one of these free-range cottontails, though I've long considered it. My brother-in-law even offered me the use of his rabbit-trapping box, a boy scoutish contraption which utilizes a carrot and trap door method. I think I could probably catch one with this device, but I have several concerns.

The first is the one which several commenters have already alluded to, namely, the ingestion of pesticides. I don't use any chemicals in my yard but my neighbors do. I think the bunnies may prefer my yard with its weeds, but they do cross boundaries. Also, are there any diseases which these animals may carry and convey to humans? Should I be more worried about possible pathologies than in the food that is supposedly FDA inspected?

Finally, assuming I've successfully trapped a live rabbit, what then? How do I dispatch it? I think this would be the most challenging part, as I've never intentionally executed any creature larger than a good-sized bumblebee. Didn't grow up on a farm, not a hunter, never snared pigeons in a bag. My meat usually comes sealed in plastic on a foam tray, and thus I'm spared the harsh truth of its origins.

Suggestions anyone?

Got a rabbit to dispatch? You need an old-timer. My dad grew up shooting rabbits on the farm. I've asked him about raising chickens, making butter and buttermilk, how a silo works, and maybe next time I'll ask him about those rabbits. I've read accounts of old-timers -- our nanny among them -- who still live in Oella and recall eating muskrat and possum and whatever other protein came their way. Seek them out. They're probably fun to talk to.

On an unrelated note, captcha: "You Leibniz." (Leibniz is credited with Sir Isaac Newton as the creator of calculus).

I'm a city dweller now, but lived in the county most of my life.

I had a rabbit problem and invested in a sling shot. It took me a while, but I was soon dispatching rabbits at 50-75 feet. I never skinned and ate tehm though...

I'd go with the sling shot method myself for dispatching rabbits.
if they're caught in a trap, they get stressed, and you'd have to snap their necks as well. Upset animals lead to not good tasting meat as a product. Also, they can actually die of "fright".
Another thing to consider is the diet of the rabbit in the surrounding areas, and any environmental contamination. Rabbits exposed to chemicals develop abnormal organ issues and deposits of yellow/orange fat. If you don't know what you're looking at, you could very well be consuming a sick rabbit, and expose yourself to a variety of diseases. Any meat you do consume from a wild rabbit needs to be THROUGHLY cooked, no exceptions.

You should try Amaranth (a.k.a. Calaloo, Pigweed, Chinese Spinach, Kelite and a host of other things).

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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