We went to the east coast for two weeks in July, and my sister met me in Maine with small bag full of New Hampshire purslane—that low branching succulent that many American gardeners throw in the yard trimmings without a second thought. She’d rescued it from her garden for me. It was really cool, as my sister is far from a wild food convert. I promptly boiled it up and served it with butter and salt to the extended family. My sister thought it was the perfect topping for the bratwursts.
Two weeks later, Gregg and I headed to the Philadelphia airport with several pounds of purslane. (I can only imagine what the TSA folks thought when they inspected my baggage and found a cooler bag full of weeds, roots intact.)
I kept the roots on the plants so that the purslane would travel well, and it worked. Thanks to Bill and Marnie in Ithaca and Gregg’s dad Frank in PA for the purslane bounty; I’m pleased to say that not only did the purslane make it home safe and sound to Colorado and into some delicious dishes, but also that the roots and attached shoots made it safely into the dirt in my makeshift garden off the end of the back yard.
My purslane garden in fact contains three varieties. In addition to PA and NY, there is a healthy strain of Denver purslane as well, thanks to the weeding prowess of Gregg’s step-dad Jim. He brought me a bag full two days after our arrival home.
Processing the Purslane
It took the better part of a day to process and prepare the approximately 4lbs of purslane that I ended up with. I did all of it on the same day—a Herculean task that (seriously) tightened the knot in my shoulder back up.
First I washed the purslane outside with the hose, sorting dead pieces out and cutting off roots and young shoots to be planted in the back yard. Then it was on to the kitchen sink, where I filled the basin and bathed the purslane in batches, swishing it around in the water and then individually sorting, washing , pulling off dead leaves, and cutting thick stalks into a separate pile. At one point, sweating and frustrated, I asked myself if it was worth all the effort.
Here is what I made:
- Sweet Pickled Purslane Stems – I cut off the thicker stems (discarding the thickest) and made a jar of sweet pickled purslane stems using the icebox sweet pickle recipe I got from my grandmother. I’ve been eating these, finely chopped, along with tomatillo salsa on chips. (Bill, how did I forget to take those frozen tomatillo cubes with me? Argh!)
- Sorrel and Purslane Coconut Soup – I also foraged a lot of wood sorrel from Bill and Marnie’s garden, so I made a variation of my Thai-Style Coconut Sorrel Fish Soup but with purslane and then tofu in place of the fish. The soup was amazing and Gregg asserted that of all the ways he’s tried purslane, it may be best-suited to soup.
- Blanched Purslane – I didn’t know anything about blanching before, but apparently that’s the way to prepare greens and veggies if one plans to freeze them while still maintaining culinary goodness. (Thayer explains this in his chapter, “Storing Wild Foods,” in The Forager’s Harvest.) Basically you drop greens (1 minute) or veggies (5 minutes) into boiling water before freezing them. I ended up freezing a couple quarts of purslane.
- Purslane and Eggs – Purslane can be eaten raw or cooked, and since we had a little of the blanched purslane left over that didn’t fit into a container for freezing, Gregg tossed it into our eggs this morning for breakfast. It was great.
- Purslane Salad – I got the recipe for a purslane salad involving sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatos, purslane, diced dandelion roots, and French dressing from a 1974 recipe book I picked up at Autumn Leaves used bookstore in Ithaca, entitled A Naturalist’s Guide to Cooking with Wild Plants. Purslane is eaten in many countries as a vegetable, and, according to authors Connie and Arnold Krockmal, this recipe is popular in the South Seas. It was also popular with Gregg and me. (However, don’t get me started on how long it took to dig, clean, and prepare ½ cup of dandelion roots.)
It’s a lot of purslane food, and all of it is awesome. I am crazy, however. I’ve spent days on this (along with trying to figure out CSS web programming, which has me extremely frustrated), to the point that I haven’t had the time and energy to write very much.
At the end of the long day of mad purslane processing, Gregg and I took another misty twilight walk around the neighborhood.
“You remember how last year I replayed the early stages of civilization by accidentally sowing wild edible plant seeds, thereby rediscovering cultivation?” I asked him. “Well, now I’m beginning to understand how great, indeed, was the achievement of breeding modern day vegetables.” Upon repeating my realization to Jim, he applauded me for making it to the industrial revolution.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m nowhere near losing my interest in wild edible plants—I figure, the more I do it, the better I’ll get at it, right? For example, dandelion roots should be easier to harvest from soft dirt instead of rocky soil, and local purslane would probably fare better than long-distance purslane, thus requiring less processing.
Still, I do admit it is a lot of work for these yummy foods and attendant realizations.