Friday, August 2, 2013

Pickling Wild Edibles: Purslane

 Mistakes happen and sometimes time moves faster than we do.  Yep, it happens to everyone.  Anyone who has a perfectly clean house or has their lawn at the perfect height or doesn't have weeds in the garden either has help, too much time on their hands, or obsesses waaayyyy too much over what the neighbors think.  I'd like to tell everyone my gardens are always perfect but then you'd know I was lying.  I try my best but sometimes, especially when it is hot or there's been a good amount of rain, the weeds grow faster than I can get to them.

This, however, is not the worst thing in the world.  Many of the weeds that are in our garden make some of our best wild edibles.  I'll harvest the nettles that sting me while I'm weeding the cabbage patch to put into a wonderful vegetable broth that I freeze or can for my vegetarian and vegan friends.  I mix lambsquarters with my spinach when I make spinach lasagna.  Chickweed goes into many of my salves as well as any early summer smoothie that I blend.  And, of course, I make one of the three folk wines of North America from the dandelion flower.

It's been almost a week since I've had ANY time to weed the pumpkin patch and it was with a bit of trepidation that I headed out there this morning to begin the long process of removing the tangle of weeds that grows along it's border.  Piles of plants quickly grew, one for the compost pile, one for the chickens, and one for me and my human friends. 

One of the weeds that end up in the "for humans" pile is the purslane.  Purslane is an invasive weed, meaning it did not originate here on North America.  But apparently, like we humans, it found this place to its liking and has not only stuck around but propagated itself to huge numbers.  I have seen some unkempt gardens completely overrun with it.  Since I grow my fields in an organic way, I often have plenty of purslane growing between the rows of planted veggies.

Thing is, if I was smart, I would plant purslane before I planted anything else in my fields and gardens.  Purslane is higher in omega 3 fatty acids than any other plant known to mankind.  Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for normal metabolism. Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids, meaning that they cannot be synthesized by the human body, we need to get them from somewhere else to survive.  Purslane is also very high in vitamin A, B, C and E, beta carotene, calcium, potassium, folate, lithium, iron and is 2.5% protein. That is huge amount of protein for a plant.  Eating this weed is better for you than eating a salad with lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, carrots and chicken combined.

I'll be eating it in my salad at lunch, making a soup out of it for friends tonight, and pickling as a vitamin packed treat this winter when there isn't anything around but blowing snow and icicles.  Pickling purslane is really, really easy, and totally up to you and your tastes on how to flavor it.

First clean off your purslane.  Because it grows so close to the ground, it is going to get dirty.  No way around that.  Dirty, gritty food is why many of our ancestors lost their teeth before their 30th birthday, so clean it well.  Put the purslane on a towel and pat dry.  You don't need to get off every last bit of moisture but get a good part of it off so you have the right balance of water and vinegar.

In a sauce pan bring to a boil a measurement of 60% vinegar (I use our homemade apple cider vinegar) and 40% water.  This is the brine you will be putting over your purslane.  Then pick your favorite flavors.  I am a dill and garlic fanatic myself but my sister loves curry.  Some people love cayenne peppers, others like horseradish. The easiest thing to do is buy pre-mixed pickling spices from the grocery store and put a teaspoon of this into your jars. Really, it is totally up to you.  You can make each jar it's own flavor, label and take notes so you know what your favorite is after you try them.

Sterilize your jars and lids...this is easily done by just setting them into a pan of boiling water for 10 minutes or so. 

Then stuff your purslane and flavorings into the jar, leaving an inch to 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar.  Put one to 1/2 teaspoon some sort of non-iodine salt on top of this.  If all you have is table salt, feel free to use this.  It won't ruin your pickles, it just MAY discolor them.  I've used iodine salt in pickles before though and they looked fine.  I think people just like to have rules to force onto others so they can tell you what kind of salt to use. 

Okay, enough about salt...After that, pour your vinegar/water mixture over the purslane in the jars, carefully fish out a hot lid and ring from your boiling water, cover it and tighten the ring.  Let set until the lid pops, label and store it on the shelves.  If a jar doesn't pop, that's fine too, put that into the fridge and in two weeks you have a delicious, nutrient packed snack to put on your sandwich.  No matter what, this should sit for at least 2 weeks to blend the flavors.

That's it, you just set aside food for your family and yourself for the winter, and you didn't have to buy it from the store.  You worked WITH nature instead of fighting her, and the earth loves you for it.