For the Love of Purslane

When my neighbor went to Turkey a few years ago, she was fortunate to spend time with a Turkish family, and taste true Turkish cuisine prepared at home. She also had a grand time at the Istanbul Bazaar and came back with amazingly fragrant spices, some of which she gifted me. She really enjoyed many vegetable dishes and was particularly intrigued by a vegetable she never had before… and had I ever heard of it? such a funny name:  purslane?

Basil & purslane both like hot summer weather

Purslane & basil both like hot summer weather

I burst out laughing, and told her I’d bring her a big basket the following morning, wanted to harvest it when it was cool. Which I did. Fair is fair: a basket of “weeds” for a basket of spice.

Because, as you know, many Americans consider purslane (Portulaca oleracea) a weed. In fact, many don’t even know it’s edible. It’s a cousin of the ornamental  moss rose (Portulaca grandiflora), sometime also called purslane. Don’t confuse the two  when buying seeds (you are unlikely to find Portulaca oleracea plants for sale)

Yet – it is. It’s also nutritious, mild (vaguely lemony) & crunchy – and for me it grows when lettuce does not. In the garden, it’s an annual succulent. It self-sows (and how!) but does not germinates until it is quite warm. In poor soil, it can look “weedy” indeed. But in good garden soil, it becomes a handsome plant that hugs the ground. Pick often to delay flowering and to encourage more leaves.

Leaves, stalks, buds, flowers and seeds are all edible. But the younger, firmer, leaves are preferable – so pinch out shoots to harvest (and encourage branching at the same time).  I dislike the texture of the tiny seeds, so I swish my harvest in a large bowl of cold water to dislodge the seeds that sink to the bottom of the bowl.

A cultivated “improved” version of purslane exists. The pale-golden green leaves are fleshier than the ones growing wild in my garden, but also more fragile and the plant is not as robust. I prefer the unimproved version.

So how do you eat purslane? Read more

An Early Taste For Greens

I am not a professional forager, but I do harvest wild plants for eating. The easy ones are summer berries, autumn berries, and pawpaws; the more glamorous ones, morels & chanterelles (although to be truthful, my husband does most of the mushroom hunting);  the prettier ones edible flowers like this one or that one; we even got spice… and the humbler ones are greens. And at the end of winter, I can’t get enough fresh green things to eat.

With the snow finally receding, I go to the garden for those wild greens. Few fields are safe nowadays because of herbicides, and I don’t gather from active pastures! So they are wild in the sense that I did not plant them, not because they are in the wild. In fact, many people think of those early greens as “weeds”, yet they are flavorful and nutritious.

Mache (Corn salad) is hardly wild, but it reseed wildly in my garden… and I have seen it in at least two graveled parking lots around here. It is anyhow very early, actually growing through the winter – with accelerated growth in March and early April. For me, it bolts mid-April. With the help of a cold frame, one could harvest it in any weather. Without, you just wait for the snow to melt. There! Vibrant green. Fresh. A delicious salad. I wrote about growing mache before, but really I have not planted mache in years. I just let it reseed.

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A small rosette of mache

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A big rosette of mache

A big salad of mache, sprouts, homemade pickled beets, diced chicken. Fast food at its best.

A colorful salad of mache, sprouts, homemade pickled beets, diced chicken, pepitas. Fast food at its best.


Then we have hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), a small peppery green from the mustard family. It’s native to Eurasia but has made a home in many gardens in North America. I did not realize until recently that it was edible. I don’t find the plant overly bitter, more like a strong watercress (which I am told grow around here but I have not yet found any myself). But I pick it before it goes to flower – flowering generally changes the taste of a plant (lettuce becomes bitter for example). In fact, when in seed, the plant explodes it ripe seed head, projecting seeds away… maybe even in the eyes of the weeding gardener… Gatherer, be warned!  Like mache, hairy bittercress grows in a rosette, so I just cut it at the root level with scissors (which is also how I harvest mache). As for any greens, wash well in a big bowl of water to remove any accumulated soil or debris, and remove any yellowed or tattered leave. Leave the rosette whole or break it. We eat it raw in salad, but it can also be cooked… should you happen to gather several gallons of it.

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Hairy Bittercress in the garden


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A large-ish but young bittercress rosette

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A small bittercress rosette, upside down


Finally, the third green that’s abundant for me right now is chickweed (Stellaria media), another European native. It’s a bit tattered at the moment now because of the melting snow, but in a week or two, it’ll just be blush againl. Chicken of course adore chickweed, and soon enough, we’ll share. Meanwhile the tips go in salad. If I feel fancy, in early April, I’ll gather whole plants and make a puree soup of the most beautiful green.


People also harvest dandelion greens and field cress, but I find them too bitter when raw, and I just don’t cook them. If I want cooked greens, I can reach in my freezer; I am hankering for salad right now, so mache, hairy bittercress and chickweed are helping to bulk up the salad bowl. And for that, I am grateful.






It’s a little hard to get live green food out of the cold frames right now.

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And anyway, we don’t have that many cold frames; … and they weren’t planted that thickly… and they’ve been depleted by earlier harvests. We just need to get more cold frames (not just Reemay over hoops)… and we are working on that.

Meanwhile, what’s to do to get fresh salad greens while waiting for the snow to melt so I can harvest mache, Austrian winter pea shoots and maybe arugula and some land cress? One sprouts.

Because, frankly, I really want to avoid lettuce grown like this.

Sprouting is easy. Gather some wide-mouth pint or quart canning jars and some food-grade seeds (NOT seeds for planting which may be treated with something noxious).

sprout 001 Read more

A Winter Rabbit Stew With Mushrooms and Hakurei Turnips

Rabbit Stew

Rabbit Stew

Winter. Cold and white this February. We have seen -2F (-19F) several nights, which, for us, is cold, and it’s been sustained. There are days where the high temperature nudged 15 or even 20F ( -9 or even 77C). Even the Chesapeake is frozen in place preventing boats from reaching tiny Tangier Island!

Few clients are entertaining and, with snow on the ground, there is no outdoor gardening. There are only so many seeds you can start in the greenhouse … So… I cook (and I write a little more)

Long simmered dishes call to me on those bleak days – or on those piercingly clear and cold days. When I have rabbit, I generally roast it, but recently, I made a rabbit stew, which just reminded me how good rabbit is. Especially when a little cream is thrown in the sauce… and then something almost magical happens.  Because, you see, rabbit does not taste like chicken, it tastes like rabbit! And that’s good.

The dish is white – sorts, off –  muted in color is a better description: I used peeled potatoes as well as Hakurei turnips  which I had on hand, but any young small turnips will do. Just don’t go for those old shriveled things that have been sitting in the produce bins. Carrots would certainly work, although they would bring sweetness instead of a slight bitterness to the stew – and will also break the whitish color of the stew. But the important point is: don’t get hang up on the specifics of the ingredients! Just make the stew. It will taste great and comforting.

It’s rather soupy stew; if you want it less soupy then decrease the amount of liquid. It’s critical however to use a really good chicken broth, that means homemade. If you decide to decrease the amount of liquid, you may omit the potatoes, add more turnips, and serve the rabbit over grits or rice. Otherwise, pass the bread!

A Winter Rabbit Stew With Mushrooms and Hakurei Turnips

Rabbit Stew A rabbit’s back leg is very meaty… Read more

A Duck Roast With Currant Jelly Sauce

Roasted Duck, Photo by Molly Peterson


Let’s get it out of the way right now: duck is fatty, and duck is delicious, a rich dark meat that is quite distinctive and … – surprise! – does not taste like chicken. I sometime roast a duck mainly to collect its fat – because (as everyone knows) duck-fat fried potatoes are a treat. So if you are afraid of fat, skip the duck!

Duck is poultry, but a duck’s skeleton and body are very different from a chicken. A 5-lb duck yields a lot less meat than a 5-lb chicken — don’t forget that pound of lovely fat — mostly in breast and leg meat. Everything else is “gnaw off the bone” meat (wings, neck and back – and innards, of course!), stuff that not everyone cares to eat. At least not at a fancy dinner as fingers are required. Go figure.  So… anything smaller than 5 lb is not really worth roasting.

Ducks are — I am told — somewhat harder to raise than chicken. Mostly the processing (getting the feathers off) are a lot trickier and slower. So, it’s not that easy to get local ducks in the mid-Atlantic area. The closest duck farm I know is  Free Union Grass Farm in Free Union, VA, more than  60 miles away (which is further than I want to drive on a casual basis).

So duck is a treat here.

A rich meat, it marries well with bitter or sour: cherries in the spring, turnips and ginger in the fall, oranges & olives in winter, or like the recie here, make a tart sauce with current jelly. Or you could use tart cherry jam or jelly, or a seedless blackberry jam. Read more

The Miraculous and Delicious Egg



To the music of “These are a few of my favorite things” – and  with apologies to Maria! – let’s all sing together:

Soufflés & Quiches, Omelets & Crepes

Clafoutis, Flans, and Croque-Madames

Waffles & Cremes, Meringue & Mousse

Not to mention sunnyside up

Custard & Ice, and Devil & Neige

Angel Food Cake

Steamed  bread pudding and lemon pound cake

These are a few of my favorite things.

Somewhere along the line, eggs got a bad rap. Too much fat! Too much cholesterol! This from people who did not blink an eye about recommending margarine and other wholly unnatural man-made white fats. And then thanks to the horrors of factory farming where hundred of thousands of hens are crammed together, fed junk,  and forced to lay continuously, salmonella scares have  further discourage the eating of eggs. But of course! Anything produced in factory “farms” conditions is going to be less than wholesome.

But  a pastured flock has access to a varied diet of grass, weeds, bugs; enjoy sunshine & fresh air; range and do what chicken naturally do (scratch, run, take dust baths etc). Those eggs are truly an amazing food, a power house of protein, minerals, vitamin and oligo elements – delicious and nutritious.

In my area, eggs from pastured hens sell vary from $4.25 to $5.75 a dozen, generally depending on whether the grain rations are GMO-free or organic, or soy-free. At 2 oz per egg extra-large), that’s 24 oz or 1.5  lb per dozen – or $2.83 to$ 3.83 per pound – a pretty good deal!

Besides, consider that chicken lay unfertilized eggs while wild birds lay eggs only after mating. Does that give us an indication of how long the relationship between chicken and humankind is?

So… need some egg ideas?


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Strata, aka savory bread pudding, here with roasted pepper, slow cooked onions & spinach


grits & manchego souffle

Souffles – here corn grits souffle



Everyone like deviled eggs! Here’s my recipe.


Vegetable, buckwheat noodle  & egg stir-fry


Sunnyside eggs anytime – that’s the ultimate fast food!


Sunnyside eggs, chayote shoots, rice & spicy zucchini rougail

Sunnyside eggs with purslane, blue potato & cherry tomato salad

Sunnyside eggs with a summer salad of purslane, blue potatoes & cherry tomatoes


Spring omelette with asparagus & morellesmorels-2009-04-043




While many desserts include eggs, some rely almost exclusively on eggs, including these:

Baked custard. I vary the sweeteners, often using honey, as well as the flavoring: almond extract, fennel seeds, orange oil are flavors I often use (but vanilla bean is the most frequent)


Fruit curd, including lemon curd are good on toast, mixed with plain yogurt, as cake filling,  or as a base in a fruit tart. Add whipped cream and/or whipped egg whites and you’ve got lemon mousse.

meyer lemon curd

Meringue & passion fruit curd… and also pavlovas

Meringues with passion fruit curd

Meringues with passion fruit curd (lemon curs or any kind of curd works too)


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Early Summer Pavlova with rhubarb curd


Chocolate mousse.

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Spicy Chocolate Custard. custard, spicy chocolate 005




Lard: make it at home. A pictorial guide.

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s efforts 200 years ago, olive trees don’t grow in Virginia. Erratic winter weather with nightly lows in the single digit temperatures followed by days at 70F — as well as hot muggy summers — don’t make happy olive trees. Anything below -10C (14F) will severely damage even a mature olive tree.

Don’t get me wrong, I love olive oil. And I used quite a bit of it along with avocado oil and nut oils. But in the last few years, I have been switching part of my cooking  fats to … lard, specifically home-rendered lard from locally pastured pigs. Here, in the Northern Virginia Piedmont, what other cooking fat is locally available to me? in such abundance? and so easy to make at home? Read more

Honey For Sale!

Rappahannock Arboreal Honey

Rappahannock Arboreal Honey

The 2014 harvest is now available for purchase at R.H. Ballard in Washington, VA,  and through Heritage Hollow Farms Store in Sperryville.  We kept a few jars for direct sale, if you are local and interested.

It’s a very small harvest as we are letting the bees keep most of the honey since we plan to increase the colony numbers, every year for a few years.

Real honey is truly a miracle. That 12-oz jar represents the nectar from 1.5 million flowers. For us, the main sources of nectar are forest trees (hence the name “arboreal Honey”: tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), basswood (aka American Linden, Tilia americana) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) The bees from one hive traveled 41,000 miles to gather it: ten of thousands of bees forage within 1 or 2 mile radius of the hive. Each trip represents a visit to 50 or 100 flowers of the same kind. It takes 10 or 12 bees their entire life time to make a teaspoon honey. Pretty sobering when you think about it.

We are grateful.

Prior blog posts on beekeeping are here:

On Blackberries (and Creme de Blackberry recipe)

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Before I planted blackberries in the garden, I used to go forage for them. They grow all over the place, tenaciously clinging to their chosen spot and taking over the neighborhood: the clump expands rapidly and any cane that touches the ground roots to produce yet another plant. They are ferocious too with long hard and sharp thorns that will draw blood as you gingerly try to pluck a berry. It takes quite a while to pick a gallon of wild blackberries

But not the plants I have: they are thornless with large and flavorful berries. Labels have –  of course –  been lost, but at least one of them (based on its behavior) is “Triple Crown”, the other might be “Apache” and “Navaho”.  They are beautiful in bloom and mesmerizing in fruit. Last winter, I did not prune them. I mean, I meant to prune them, but it never happened. And that Triple Crown took full advantage of it,  pushing itself over the timid raspberries, flinging its 10-ft long canes in the asparagus bed, and blocking all the paths around it. On the bright side, it’s producing lots of berries. Which for now need to be picked every other days, but soon, it’ll be every day.

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Harvest every other days … and it’s only the beginning of the season.

And so I have to do something with them. Here are some ideas: Read more

Foraging for Wild Summer Berries (and Shrub recipe)

Wineberries and a few wild blackberries

Wineberries – and a few wild blackberries

Who hasn’t plucked and munched on a handful of wild blackberries or huckleberries while hiking? Didn’t it feel like a tiny treasure hunt, the taste of wild berries sharper, more intense than their tamed counterparts?

Sure, foraging for berries takes time, but you didn’t lift a finger, did not drop a single bead of sweat  to propagate, nurture, plant, weed, fertilize nor water the little suckers! You only have to show up and pick.  Even with decent foraging skills,  a couple of hours of picking yields a harvest that may look slim.  After all, I can pick 5 times faster from tidy rows of ‘Apaho’, ‘Triple Crown’ or ‘Navajo’ – three widely planted thornless cultivars – than from a fiercely tangled thorny thicket of wild blackberries. (yes, I have measured!)… but of course the tidy rows have to be maintained, pruned, trellised, weeded, mowed…

Besides, there is nothing like picking wild berries on a warm scented summer morning: the sweetly clean fragrance of pink bouncing-bet, the sharp minty smell of trampled horsemint, the aroma of over ripe berries, the muskiness of rotting vegetation, the heady pervasive scent of flowering basswood humming with bees… it’s… wild! And some berries simply are not cultivated. So if you want them, you get to pick.

Most common berries fruiting in June or July for us include: Read more