Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Field Garlic in Manhattan

Take the A train.

To Inwood. From Brooklyn that took us about 35 minutes. Underground all the way to the northern tip of Manhattan, to 2o7th Street. The neighbourhood is Latino and the thwack of bats against balls characterized a Sunday around the baseball diamonds of Inwood Park.

Our stomachs were rumbling. We had actually come for the meat on a stick man, whose kebabs we'd inhaled last summer. But the ice cream man said, This year he no come. Sad. His meat on a stick was good. If anyone knows where he is, please tell. His sticks cost $2.50. If they were dog, they were good dog. He could make three times as much lower down on the island. Maybe that's what he did.

But I had folded an Unattractive Plastic Bag into my pocket as an afterthought, leaving home. So the mission changed. An onioning we'd go. Up the wooded path and into the woods we went with spring songbirds twittering in the branches high overhead.

Blueberry flowers were a promising sign of things to come.

The rail bridge we'd crossed on our train trip on the Adirondack to Montreal last December, had swung open to allow a boat through. Vince stayed to watch for trains as it closed, and I hunted about in the bushes for things to eat.

I remembered that native Solomon's Seal is edible in shoot, but I could never cut them. They make beautiful clumps and there just weren't enough of them to justify a mowing down. Anyway, I think they're beyond harvest stage now...Ellen?

Garlic mustard, growing right beside the path, so I had dog pee visions. No thanks.

Is this what I think it is? Poison ivy in spring?

It was everywhere. I cautioned Vince, who had started foraging with me, and whose experience post Staten Island last year had been nightmarish. He leapt back.

You see how it surrounds the field garlic? Now some of it is five leafed, and some three. They are both poison ivy aren't they?

I pulled onions carefully. Muttering about needing jewel weed (reputedly an antidote to poison ivy if applied immediately after contact) and it being too early in the season when, lo! A cluster of seedlings practically yelled at me: We are jewel weed! I pulled some up, crushed them and made the Frenchman 'wash' his hands with them. If you'd seen what he looked like and how he suffered last year you would have done the same.

Later I found some more, larger seedlings. Sappy stems, soft leaves, quite easy to identify even without three feet of summer growth and beautiful yellow flowers. I washed my hands too.

We found some excellent patches of field garlic, away from the path.

At first I made a mistake. I pulled out a whole clump, the way we'd been shown on our foraging tour last year in Prospect Park. Apart from being hellish to clean it made no sense, as so many bulblets were too small to be of use, and many would be wasted. So I started to pull them one by one, targeting the fattest leaves.

Much better. They were fat and firm, entirely different from fall's skinny things.

Our bag quite full, and smelling heavily of garlic, we walked down to the broad Hudson River and then east a little to catch a train back from 191st Street.

Back home, the real work began.

Stay tuned.
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