Food
9:41 am
Sat June 22, 2013

Don't Buy That Picnic Salad; Find It Near The Blanket

Originally published on Sun June 23, 2013 8:52 am

For one Vermont couple, "local" doesn't mean heading to the farmers market. It means finding a natural salad bar at your picnic spot — or maybe even in your backyard.

Nova Kim and Les Hook live on a lush farm between a large lake and the Connecticut River near the Vermont-New Hampshire border. Over the decades, they've become skilled gatherers of edible wild foods, which they sell to high-end restaurants. But on this drizzly day, they're in their own kitchen, making dressing for a picnic green salad.

With her gray hair in a skinny braid down her back, Kim grinds dried wild ginger root. Hook, also long-haired, minces up wild ramps and leeks. The pungent bulbs are no bigger than a pencil eraser.

"You can use them like you use onion and garlic," Kim explains. "It's a combination of the two and it can be kind of an intense flavor."

Kim drops about two tablespoons of each wild ingredient in a glass pint jar. She adds about five tablespoons of lemon juice and a cup of melted coconut oil, which she thinks tastes better with wild greens than heavier olive oil.

"This is my kind of mixing: Put it in the jar and shake," she says. "I'd like people to understand they can do this right in their own yard."

Kim doesn't always know exactly what she might find beyond their property. And it's important, she says, to harvest where there has been no chemical spraying. So before leaving the yard, she tucks some common plants — some might call them weeds — in cellophane bags. Kim and Hook say plastic ruins delicate pickings.

"I'm going to pick a little bit of this stuff here," Hook says, reaching for some greenery.

"That going to be enough?" Kim asks. "Oh, you are doing the henbit?"

Henbit has small, dark scalloped leaves and tiny purple blossoms along the stalk. Suburban landscapers hate it, but Kim says rural gourmets love it.

"Our chefs compare it to balsamic mint," she says.

With walking sticks and woven-basket backpacks, Kim and Hook head downhill through a pasture toward a stream. They collect dandelions, violet blossoms, wild sedum, sorrel, and lots of watercress. As storm clouds gather, they settle down on a stream bank for a healthy al fresco lunch.

The couple's wild salads tend to be finely minced. Each crunchy bite of this one tastes a little bitter, a little sweet and a little sour, especially after adding the tangy ginger-root dressing.

If you aren't good at identifying plants, or knowing which ones are safe, pack a reliable field guide. Hook and Kim rarely pull anything out by the roots, unless the tubers are what they need most. And they pick most greens toward the top of a stalk, so the plants will keep growing and supplying them with fresh salad fixings all summer long.

Hook munches slowly and offers his trademark maxim: "Step out your back door, and eat forever more."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And now to our series about filling your summer picnic basket with good foods that you can carry around. For a couple of Vermont locavores, a locally sourced picnic doesn't mean getting supplied from the farmer's market. No, it means finding a natural salad bar at your picnic spot, maybe even your back yard.

From Vermont Public Radio, Charlotte Albright, tagged along on a wild plant-gathering spree.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT, BYLINE: Nova Kim and Les Hook live on a lush farm between a large lake and the Connecticut River near the Vermont-New Hampshire border. Over the decades, they've become skilled gatherers of edible wild foods, which they sell to high-end restaurants. But on this drizzly day, we're in their own kitchen making dressing for our picnic green salad.

With her gray hair and a skinny braid down her back, Nova grinds dried wild gingerroot. Les, also longhaired, minces up wild ramps and leeks. The pungent bulbs are no bigger than a pencil eraser.

NOVA KIM: And you can use them much like you'd use onion and garlic. It's like a combination of the two, and it can be kind of an intense flavor.

ALBRIGHT: Nova drops about two tablespoons of each wild ingredient in a glass pint jar. She adds about five tablespoons of lemon juice and a cup of melted coconut oil, which she thinks tastes better with wild greens than heavier olive oil.

KIM: This is my kind of mixing, put it in a jar and shake.

ALBRIGHT: Time to head out the door.

KIM: I like people to understand, they can do this right in their own yard.

ALBRIGHT: Nova doesn't always know exactly what she might find beyond their property and it's important, she says, to harvest where there has been no chemical spraying. So before leaving the yard, she tucks some common plants, some might call them weeds, in cellophane bags. Nova and Les say plastic ruins delicate pickings.

LES HOOK: So I'm going to take a little bit of stuff right here.

KIM: Is that going to be enough? Oh, you're doing the henbit?

ALBRIGHT: Henbit has small, dark scalloped leaves and tiny purple blossoms along the stalk. Suburban landscapers hate it, but rural gourmets love it.

KIM: Our chefs compare it to like a balsamic mint.

SIMON: With walking sticks and woven-basket backpacks, Nova and Les head downhill through a pasture toward a stream. They collect dandelions, violet blossoms, wild sedum, sorrel and lots of watercress. As storm clouds gather, we settle down on their stream bank for a healthy al fresco lunch.

HOOK: I'm going to rip this watercress up a little bit, get it a little bit more smaller to eat.

ALBRIGHT: Les tosses the greens in a stainless steel bowl as Nova passes out chopsticks and paper plates.

HOOK: Everybody got their weapons?

SIMON: Their wild salads tend to be finely minced. Each crunch bite of this one tastes a little bitter, a little sweet and a little sour, especially after you add the tangy ginger root dressing. Les munches slowly and offers his trademark maxim.

HOOK: Step out your back door and eat forever more.

SIMON: If you aren't good at identifying plants or knowing which ones are safe, pack a reliable field guide. Les and Nova rarely pull anything out by the roots unless the tubers are what they need most. And they pick most greens toward the top of the stalk so the plants will keep growing and supplying them with fresh salad fixings all summer long.

For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright in Eastern Vermont.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.