The middle schoolers from the Xavier University Montessori Lab School have been coming out once each month this school year to spend a day learning and helping with a project. Today’s theme was “Signs of Spring.”
We started off the day by dividing into three groups. Each was to search out as many signs of spring as they could find. We discussed some things we might find ahead of time: new leaves, buds, flowers, birds, etc. When we returned, we spread out all our finds on the table and talked about what everything was. In almost every group’s pile, about half the items they brought back were edibles. What a neat lesson to learn about how spring provides us with a richness of foods, especially greens and herbs!
Each group also had one specific edible to look for:
After I checked to confirm they had found the correct plants, I set each group up with a recipe to prepare using their foraged greens.
Group 1: Wild Garlic
This group had it easy because wild garlic grows pervasively in our grass and it is so easy to identify. I told them, when in doubt, crush a leaf and smell it. They even dug up some bulbs. Their food item was a garlicky pickle. I gave them a basic pickle brine and a bunch of spices to choose from. They prepared the cucumbers, made the brine then smelled the spices and decided what else to add, along with their wild garlic. The students loved these! They ate the entire jar before they left.
Clean wild garlic greens and trim off any brown or damaged parts. If you also retrieved bulbs, remove roots, clean well and quarter.
Wash and trim ends off cucumbers. Cut into spears or chips.
Fill jars with cucumbers and wild garlic greens/bulbs. Add other desired flavors:
- Dill seed
- Dill weed
- Black peppercorns
Prepare brine by mixing together 1.5 cups water, 1.5 cups apple cider vinegar, 1.5 Tablespoons pickling salt. Microwave one minute and stir to make sure salt is dissolved.
Pour brine over cucumbers to fill the jar. Prepare more brine if necessary (1 c water: 1 c vinegar : 1 T salt).
Group 2: Garlic Mustard
This group had a harder time finding their plant. Garlic mustard is just starting to come up so the leaves are small and low on the group. They got it confused with dead nettle and henbit. I brought them over to a patch of garlic mustard though and crushed some leaves so they could smell the difference. They ended up using a mix of garlic mustard and dead nettle for their pesto, and it was delicious! As one of their teachers said…
“This pesto tastes like spring!”
Garlic Mustard Pesto
- 2 cups garlic mustard leaves, washed
- ¾ cups parmesan
- ¼ cups nuts
- ½ cups olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine leaves, parmesan, nuts and oil in food processor. Mix until well combined. Taste, season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta.
Group 3: Chickweed
The final group looked for chickweed. They had a bit of a hard time identifying their plant initially but once I showed them a sample, they started finding it all over the place. The chickweed is trying to take over any open space in my gardens now so it’s easy to find if you’re looking in the right places. They prepared a recipe called Chickweed Crostini from the book Foraged Flavor. This is an awesome resources for identifying and cooking with common wild plants. You’ll have to get the book for the full recipe, but basically it’s toasted bread slices topped with sautéed onion and chickweed then drizzled with a blue cheese cream sauce and topped with chopped nuts. We left the nuts out for a child with an allergy.
After lunch, the students helped me with two quick projects. We weeded and topped off the beds of my cucumber trellis with composted manure. Then they planted spinach, lettuce, peas and radishes. Hopefully some of them will grow before their last trip in May so they can try the fruits of their labors.
The other group dug out the corner of my herb garden that had been taken over by mint. This gives me room to fill in with a nice mix of sand, compost and soil and plant some new herbs when it warms up a bit more.
It’s true that many hands make for light work! What they accomplished in a half hour would have taken me all afternoon.
It was another great visit and I think the students learned a lot. I was proud to see them all trying the new foods we made. They didn’t like everything but they tasted it before they made up their minds. There’s nothing like growing or foraging food yourself to make it interesting and fun to try!
Looking forward to two more visits with these guys this year. I think we may yet make some flower jellies and learn some more about herbs.