The Onion Flower

Writer and Horticulturist


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Looking Harder

Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper than the surface but a thriving food culture is often there if you look for it.

I was in Cleveland a couple of weeks of ago and despaired about the lack of fresh food in the downtown core. Nothing but gated convenience stores and closed retail shops as far as my feet could carry me. And then, on Friday morning from my hotel window I spied some tents set up in the public square across the street. I ran out with a cloth bag and a few dollars in my pocket and hit the jackpot. Greens, bread, jams, salsa, cheese and more. I bought one of everything that I could eat that didn’t require cooking and had a picnic back in my hotel room. I did a little research that afternoon and found a website for the Downtown Farmer’s Market. http://downtownclevelandmarket.blogspot.com/   They are only there once a week but this apparently is in addition to several other small markets that pop up daily in the city, not to mention the large and well established West Side Market, which has been in operation since 1912. http://www.westsidemarket.org/  I wish I had the time to visit this fabulous market but that didn’t happen on this trip. I did however find the Free Stamp vegetable garden on the grounds of City Hall. http://www.newsnet5.com/dpp/news/local_news/cleveland_metro/cleveland-city-hall-gets-a-new-garden

Spot the Cherry Tomatoes on the Ground?

I wandered through and picked a few ripe cherry tomatoes off the ground and some Thai basil to throw in my farmer’s market lunch. There was a little of everything in this garden and separate beds full of herbs as well.

Lavender, Sage, Thai Basil and More

I came across another vegetable garden the following day when I visited the Cleveland Botanical Gardens; although I knew I would find lots of beautiful plants there I didn’t expect to find an ornamental edible garden created by students no less.

Cleveland Botanical Garden

Apparently I sold Cleveland short. After more research I discovered that this city really does have a strong food culture. Just because it didn’t jump in my face didn’t mean it wasn’t there. If you think your city doesn’t support urban agriculture try looking a little harder. I think you’ll be surprised at what you find.

Ornamental Edible Gardens


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Eat Your Wilderness

Wild Grape Leaf

Last weekend I signed up for a ‘wild food workshop’ run by Amber Westfall, local wild food enthusiast, gardener and blogger. http://unstuff.blogspot.com/ She brought 20 people to her plot at the Kilborn Allotment Gardens and walked us through a list of 15 edible and medicinal plants that were growing freely in the surrounding fields and in her garden. Although I’ve been harvesting garlic mustard, dandelion and wild violets myself this spring I still shy away from other plants that I’m not comfortable identifying or who’s use I’m still unsure of. Thanks to this workshop I can now safely identify (and eat!) wild grape leaves among many other useful plants. A quick walk in the field near my workplace identified wild grape vines growing everywhere.

I was inspired by the snack Amber had made for her workshop participants and so Dolmades were on the menu. She made a vegetarian version for us while mine contain ground lamb but they are versatile and taste great with any filling. Wild grape leaves have many uses; they can be fermented like sauerkraut, shredded and added to stir fries or used to fill almost anything.

As more and more wild foods get introduced to my diet I’m finding that food really is everywhere and the variety of what’s available is exciting and tasty. Expanding the repertoire of what’s in your diet not only gives you the opportunity to be healthier it also displays the ecological diversity of what grows close to home. Food and medicinal plants that were brought here by European settlers are now often considered weeds because of a loss of knowledge on our part. We need to keep eating and using these plants or they will disappear into obscurity. When we buy all our fruits and vegetables in large grocery stores we mostly eat food that has been deemed relatively easy to raise, harvest and transport using mechanical methods; that cuts out a lot of good food. Anyone who grows organically or chooses heirloom varieties knows that the best tasting, most nutritious things take a little more work. Unless of course, you let nature do the work for you and eat it from the wild!

Dolmades

Grape Leaf Dolmades

Cook one cup of rice or chick peas and put aside. Brown a small chopped onion and roughly 1 cup of ground meat in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add a handful of chopped herbs, anything works but I used what was available in my garden which was dill, fennel and mint. Mix the meat and rice mixture and let cool.

Medium to large grape leaves are best, try to get them before they become dark green and tough. Cut out the stem, being careful not to rip the leaf. Wash your grapes leaves, then layer them in a large bowl or dish and cover them in boiling water. Let sit until the water becomes tepid and you can handle the leaves. Put the leaf vein side up and put a teaspoon of filling at the stem joint and roll up, folding the sides in at the same time. The procedure is no different from making cabbage rolls. Put them seam side down into a greased baking dish, sprinkle a little olive oil on top and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 oven. Baking them is optional as you can go ahead and eat them as soon as they are filled but I like that they firm up and the leaf texture becomes slightly crunchy after this step. They taste best warm, not hot so let them cool and eat with your favourite dip. Yogourt and dill dip is a great accompaniment.

When picking your leaves remember not to choose from somewhere where they might have been sprayed with pesticides and ask first if you are on private property. Amber provided all her participants with a great set of guidelines for wild edibles harvesting, here is the link to her document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1c_xg2MyCyQCH78tVU1h5H6XeRNlWrIpkYaKv8x8bZaI/edit?hl=en_US&pli=1