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Mar 16, 201711:12 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Pellitory, or I am a (Forager) Nerd

Here is a picture from my back yard; the Pellitory is the plant with spade-like leaves.

I have written a few times about foraging. It’s been an on and off-again interest for quite a while. I’ve read a great deal, and done research online, but until recently I’ve been reluctant to actually eat anything. 

That’s because most plants are not edible; some are poisonous, and unless you can positively identify something you shouldn’t eat it. But the more I’ve studied, the more confident I’ve become in identifying plants. 

There was a time when humans were much more familiar with all of the plants in our environment. We knew what was edible, what wasn’t and what plants had medicinal properties. But we don’t really need to know that a certain plant can help with digestive problems, or relieve pain, or help you go to sleep, because we have much more effective medications for those issues now. So while I find the esoterica on the subject fascinating, as a practical matter, what I’m after is taste.

Pellitory is a weed that, once you know what it looks like, you’ll notice all over the place. Here is a picture from my back yard; the Pellitory is the plant with spade-like leaves. 

Pellitory smells and tastes like cucumber. The leaves feel similar to oregano, which is to say a bit fuzzy. The stem is square, and the flowers, which are very small, appear directly on the stem. Here is another picture, showing a bit of Pellitory up close. 

I could go on about veins on the leaves or how there’s usually a slight red color to the stem, but the thing that convinced me I could identify it is that it smells and tastes like cucumber. Hard to misidentify. 

So ten years or so into this whole “foraging” thing, I actually cooked with some Pellitory this evening. I made quesadillas for the family, and while nobody but me got the Pellitory, I can report that it was pretty tasty. 

One more picture, this time of a plant that everyone reading this will recognize immediately. Those clover-shaped leaves and little purple flowers have been all over the place for a month now. It’s not clover, though, it’s Oxalis. It’s a sour-tasting edible plant, though you shouldn’t eat too much, because what makes it sour is oxalic acid, which can be problematic in large doses.

I don’t eat oxalis, or a lot of other plants that are technically edible, but which require you to boil them in three changes of water before consumption. But who knows? A few years ago I swore I’d never try to grow mustard greens again, because my first attempt ended as worm food and a bunch is only a couple of bucks at the store. Then when I tried again, and tasted them cooked an hour after they were harvested, I changed my mind. 

Maybe I’ll feel that way about oxalis some day?

 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived here his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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