By BIBI SNELDERWAARD BRION
Special to the Sun-Gazette
The milk jugs and baking dishes that I've been saving all year finally can be put to use because today I'm going to winter sow some seeds.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BIBI SNELDERWAARD BRION
Sprouts of lamb’s quarters grow in a homemade miniature greenhouse. Using plastic containers such as milk jugs and salad bar bowls, a gardener can start plants through a method known as winter sowing.
Winter sowing is a method of starting seeds outside in winter, allowing seedlings to develop into strong plants. It's a great way to grow virtually all your vegetables, both regular and wild. All you need are mini greenhouses, which can be made of used containers.
First, carefully make some drainage holes in the bottom and fill the container with potting soil.
Soak and drain the soil and then sow the seeds.
Sauteed Winter Cress for 2
Half a grocery bag of young winter cress leaves, thoroughly rinsed and chopped
Butter or ghee (clarified butter)
One big onion, finely chopped
Honey, or maple syrup, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Dash of ground cloves
Nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste
Saute winter cress leaves with the onion for four minutes.
Add water to prevent burning, add honey and spices.
Mix and stir for another four minutes.
Serve with white rice and a bit of soy sauce.
Cover the container with a vented lid, label using freezer tape and a permanent marker and place outside where they're exposed to snow, frost, rain and sun. I always put mine on the back deck where I can easily check on them.
Once the seedlings germinate, widen the ventilation holes weekly until the lid had become obsolete or the seedlings are crowding each other, at which point they can be planted in the garden. They will survive any late frost.
I've used this method successfully with my wild vegetable garden. Now I use it to grow all my new plants ... and one can never have too many stinging nettles, right?
For greens in season, I'm taking a walk outside. The field across from my house is yellow and grey, partly snow-covered with blue shadows cast by the surrounding trees, some bare, some not.
You'd almost think there's nothing to forage but, in between the mats of dead grass, I spot shiny green leaves. It's winter cress!
I first read about winter cress in Euell Gibbons' book "Stalking the Wild Asparagus." It's one of many foraging books I still enjoy reading, especially in winter. It helps me plan my activities for the year and leaves me excited and anticipating all the wild edibles to come.
Other favorite books are Tom Brown's inspiring "Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants" and Steve Brill's witty and educational "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places," which also contains great botanical drawings of winter cress.
Winter cress is a European native and a member of the mustard, or Brassicaceae, family. Its scientific name is Barbarea vulgaris because it is named after St. Barbara, whose feast day is on Dec. 4, when winter cress leaves were the only leafy greens available.
Winter cress starts as a "basal rosette" - a ground-level arrangement of leaves growing from one central point - with bright green, lobed leaves that overwinter under the snow. Smooth flower stalks appear in spring reaching 2 feet or more, with yellow, four-petaled flowers.
The bitter leaves, available from fall to spring, are edible raw but tastier as cooked greens.
Their bitterness can be diminished by boiling but increases as spring approaches, making the leaves unpalatable when the flower stalk appears. By then, its flower buds can be steamed, cooked or stir-fried like broccolini.
Tonight I will make sauteed winter cress. We could use the vitamin C these winter days. Like spinach, winter cress cooks down a bit, so I collect two big handfuls..
This recipe can, of course, be adjusted to your preference, though nutmeg and winter cress go very well together.
Coming in March: Burdock is not as bothersome as you might think.