A Summer for Ickycress

A winter cress bud cluster prior to flowering. I've been clipping these about two inches from the top, including a bit of the soft, fast-growing stem.
A winter cress bud cluster prior to flowering. I’ve been clipping these about two inches from the top, including a bit of the soft, fast-growing stem.

Last summer I force fed myself winter cress—a wild mustard that grows all over the place, eventually flowering into splashes of fantastic fluorescent yellow.

Euell Gibbons includes a chapter on winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris, B. verna) in Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), where he describes its popularity among his Italian-American neighbors. “Where I live in suburban Philadelphia, the first sign of spring is not the returning wild geese winging high, nor the robins on the lawn,” he writes. “These harbingers are always preceded by the Italians, swarming out from town to gather Winter Cress from fields and ditches.”

Following that is a lengthy diatribe on how suburbanites are missing out on a good thing when, in their smug superiority over rummagers, they pay “exorbitant prices for tasteless greenhouse produce and week-old vegetables from Florida or California, and never realize that they have driven their station wagon past tons of much better vegetables on the way to the supermarket.” It makes me laugh to think how the opposite seems true today—foraging has become so damn sexy that now it’s the fancy people you always hear about doing it.

In any case, this image of people heading out in spring to gather winter cress as part of a long-held cultural tradition has captivated me for a while. So, I set out to learn the plant. [Read More…]