Friday, January 13, 2006

Crazy Salad

I'm cheating a little for this entry in Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging. The picture is almost two years old. (Bean Sprout had just turned three months old and boy, can you see the championship potential in that noble puppy?).
That means this picture was taken at our old house, where we lived on a wild hillside growing with all manner of green things (including poison oak). We lived there for about 11 or 12 years before we discovered we were also growing salad on that hillside.
See all those drooping, elongated heart-shaped leaves in the top portion of the photo? That's miner's lettuce, aka winter purslane, Cuban spinach, and claytonia perfoliata.
It's a delicious, mild, slightly tart, vaguely succulent, somewhat crisp leaf that reminds me of limestone lettuce, aka Bibb lettuce. Very fresh (obviously, if you can pick it in your own yard) and tender, it should be dressed with nothing more aggressive than a light vinaigrette.
Miner's lettuce grows wild in cool coastal areas on the West Coast, and in cool mountain areas too. Its name comes from the 49er gold miners who allegedly rejoiced in the weed's appearance in the spring, after a winter without greens to eat. High in Vitamin C, it must have been a blessing.
On a hunch and a dare, Cranky and I drove out to West Marin a few years ago to find miner's lettuce. I didn't know what to look for, but I came across a lush stand of clean, verdant leaves of some sort growing in a moist spot, filled a bag with them, brought them home, and ate one.
I didn't die, so the next day we tried our first salad of miner's lettuce.
Then, by coincidence, I saw a photo of miner's lettuce leaves that had matured past their pick-by date, and suddenly realized two things: that what we had foraged was the right stuff, and that I'd been seeing that same crazy-looking plant in certain places on our own property: a round, cup-shaped leaf with a stem growing out of the center, itty-bitty white flowers on the top. OMG. Go see what I mean.
So for the next three winters, we enjoyed "homegrown," picked well before the flowers appeared.
Miner's lettuce should be getting ready to harvest in a week or so. But now our backyard is a concrete patio, although perhaps I'll explore in the woods up the hill about half a block from the patio.
And if I don't have any luck there, it's a pleasant excursion to West Marin.


mrs d said...

Oh man, I used to munch on miner's lettuce and sour grass in the woods all the time back in my wild child days. Love the tartness. Didn't kill me either.

I didn't know about the Miner's lettuce name origin. That's cool!

BTW, I am here because I must take breaks from the round-up write up. Holy moses, I have a lot of entries to write about. ::falls over dead yet again. gets back up. beats head against keyboard::

cookiecrumb said...

I love finding food!
BTW, I keep checking your blog to see if you're ready!
(Don't ever let me win. I don't want the job.)

Kalyn said...

Hey, great picture and I had never heard of miner's lettuce either, so I learned something. And now I found it so you don't need to send me the link.

Poor Mrs. D. I agree. I don't want to win either. Ever. Even if I get to put a button on my blog.

mrs d said...

I'm back. No, I'm not ready. Yes, I never want to win again. Yes, I really said that. (Judges, take note!) (Shut up, Chopper!) (Oh, wait... Chopper's not here slaving at the keyboard. He's making pretty salads for restaurant patrons. ::Shakes fist in Chopper's general direction::)

This will take me all night.

I take that back. It will take me most of the night. I will be taking a break to watch Battlestar Galactica.

Oh, also, because I should post something useful while I'm here, I have an enormous stack of books here on edible plants of the Pacific NW, so if anyone ever needs any further research...

cookiecrumb said...

Kalyn, great. I figured I had some time left to get it to you, but... :)
Mrs D: I sent you an e-mail with a question, if you have the time or inclination to read and answer. I love that you have those books.
Now I gotta figure out what "/* means.

mrs d said...

Eep! The Secret Insider Favor email? I responded earlier. I hope I didn't accidentally send it into the void! (Especially with all those Homeland Security types watching, cuz after all, if we really discuss what goes on, I'll have to mention Chopper's creme broule, and then we get into Evil French Surrender Monkeys, and it's all downhill and jailtime after that!)

Oh. Also, I'm still not done with the post yet.

cookiecrumb said...

Yeah, the Secret Insider Favor (sorry everyone). It's floating around Pluto now, I guess, cuz I didn't get it.
Damn! You think Rumsfeld got it? CYA!

b'gina said...

That always grew in abundance at my grandmother's place, which is where I am currently living. I wonder if it still grows, after years of having the "weeds" sprayed and whacked. We've certainly had enough rain to give a good crop. I'll have to go out and check tomorrow.
Thanks for the reminder!
And sour grass. I remember that, too.

KathyF said...

Purslane is a very good source of Omega 3. Slightly less than flax, and more than hemp. Your factoid of the day.

Did I tell you I saw Bean Sprout's twin in Paris? He was staying at our hotel. I almost stuck him in my camera bag.

Greg said...

I love the concept of foraging for free food.My Berkeley kid is an expert. I am a little nervous however.My luck I would pick poison oak and turn into monster.

Jennifer Maiser said...

Miner's lettuce is available in abundance in Golden Gate Park, though if you're considering gathering it you have to find an area with low traffic to get pristine leaves.

Purslane - real purslane - cracks me up. It's such a weed. The farmers realized that their workers were harvesting it and taking it home, and realized that they had something sellable on their hands so they started bringing it to market. For something like $2/pound.

I have a good foraging book for cities -- I will have to look around for it.

cookiecrumb said...

b'gina: Some day you can give me a hint as to what town you live in.
kathyf: Dang! All the more reason to forage. Thanks. BTW, if that had been Bean Sprout, he would have *jumped* into your camera bag. That's his trick (also his guarantee that he will accompany me out of the house).
Greg: for the love of dog, please learn what poison oak looks like! :D
Jen: Cranky's very interested in that book. Let us know if you find it.

Kudzu said...

One of the many,many reasons I wanted my original California house was that when I came out from Manhattan to check it out there was miners' lettuce growing on the hill by the redwoods. It is still pretty prolific in Mill Valley. I can also recall having safe places to gather watercress out near the RCA Beach in Bolinas but wouldn't, today, because of all the houses out on the mesa. In the South I used to walk with my grandfather in the woods and he showed me what was safe -- sourgrass and pipssisewa (wintergreen) and wild mint. Miss those days and places.....Everyone must have read the classic Stalking the Wild Asparagus. If not, it's worth looking for.

Passionate Eater said...

Great post Cookiecrumb! I also like what Jennifer Maiser commented about how purslane was once a "hated" weed, and now it is being sold at upwards of $3-/lb. (Just like dandelions.) I've had purslane, but never miner's lettuce.

I am a bit cautious though of picking up purslane or other edible greens in Golden Gate park though. Call me old-fashioned, but I guess I like to know "what" has "fertilized" my food.

cookiecrumb said...

PE: Yeah, not only "fertilized," but possibly even insecticided or weed-killered! I laugh about purslane, too (and its yuppie prices). I really like it. I guess it shouldn't be hated.
kudzu: Aw, nuts! I just realized that's probably sour grass in front of Bean Sprout in the photo, and we had it for years. Oxalis. Sorrel. Little yellow flowers. It was everywhere, and it never occurred to me to taste it. Well, that will be easy to find in my new locale, I think. I'd love to find watercress, alas. (Snicker. Ewell Gibbons. I gotta read that; maybe even buy it.)

mrs d said...

Too much sour grass = tummy ache, so said from childhood experience.

BTW, I'm back from round-up purgatory!

Did you get my S.I.F. email yet? I sent it a second time.

cookiecrumb said...

Mrs D: You are interrupting my reading pleasure experience at a cool blog called Belly Timber. It's a lengthy read. I will get back to you when I'm done.
NO! the resend didn't arrive. Try my real email address. I'll send it to you now.

mrs d said...

Phew. Good thing that little dilemma was averted. (Everyone go about your business now.)

Meanwhile, I can relax a bit. Oh. Wait! Ack! Cookiecrumb tagged me for a meme!

Cyndi said...

So sorry about your Pepper. My Pepper weighs about 55 lbs--she's really not very big for a retriever/lab mix. You should look at the dogs at They look like our Peppers, too. Mary says they're an English breed called Flat-Coated Retrievers.

lisa--in a nutshell said...

CC--did you know there's a blog called crazysalad?!'s on my site under socal bloggers...nice world traveler by the name of Angie...

cookiecrumb said...

Lisa: Oh, man, I could spend hours on that site! Thanks for pointing it out. Did you know there's a book called "Crazy Salad" by Nora Ephron?