Thursday, May 25, 2006

Good eating on the cut

There's good eating on the cut if you're a catterpillar. If you're a kid there are a few nice things to chew. But if your an ordinary person there is not much "food for free" in spring, and the plants you can eat, don't taste very nice. On the other hand the chances of getting poisoned are pretty low although Briony and (I think) Lords and Ladies' berries are poisonous. Also Hemlock, which looks very like Cow Parsley, is poisonous. Hemlock did for Socrates who was executed "on the grounds that" he offended the gods. I had to translate that into Greek as a boy and there was a special Gereek phrase for "on the grounds that" which I have long forgotten.

However I do remember the first sentences we had to translate when learning Latin and Greek and they have proved a constant source of joy to me throughout my life. (Though of course absolutely no use whatsoever.) The first word taught in Latin was "mensa" - table. And the first verb "Amo" I love. "I love the table." A very useful thing to say. What was really peculiar, if you were a boy, was that all the first declension nouns (those that end in "a" were feminine and the only man whose name ended in a was Cotta - some general of Ceasar's I think but will find out from Google, - yes he was Gaius Aurelius Cotta who fought some battle in Gaul). Yes I think "Cotta loves the table" really was a sentence we had to translate. There were a lot of sentences about Cotta so that we wouldn't get the impression that Latin was somehow effiminate.

The first verb in Greek was "luo" meaning I loosen. Lots of things were loosened. Well no, only a few things because there really aren't many things that can be loosened. "I loosen the belt of the judge" Surely I made that up, but I think I translated it. Certainly there was "He loosens the fetters of the goddess." A bit near the mark it seems to me in retrospect but of course as a child your expectation of anything you learn in class making any sense at all is zero. Notice how all the sentences are in the present making the whole thing seem even more non-sensical.

Back to eating. The favourite at this time of year must be "bread and cheese" the buds of May blossom. You can pick them and chew them. They feel a bit like little bits of cheese in your mouth and don't taste too bad at all. Kids used to pick them and eat them on the way to school. Sorrel leaves and flowers are nice to chew as well with a sort of lemony taste. You can chew on grass too, the soft ends that you pull out by pulling on the flower. Before the days of tins and frozen food people would eat "spring pudding" made from the spring shoots and mixed, I think with barley. It probably gave them much needed vitamin C after a long winter living on root vegetables. (My sister Jacky the Kew guide tells me about this and here Google really lets me down as practically every chef has a recipe for his or her "Spring Pudding" and so the information on the sort I am insterested in is burried somewhere in 30 million results. So I can't give you a sensible link.)

Enough waffle. On the cut if you're a person you can eat May buds, sorrel - the small leaves and the flowers, garlic mustard, best boiled, Celandine leaves for vitamin C, nettles - very nice boiled but hell to clean as the hairs trap the grit and they sting until cooked. (And make sure the nettles haven't been poisoned with weed killer - that would be deadly!) You could also eat cow parsley leaves as a substitute for chervil - probably best avoided as it is very like the very poisonous Hemlock. "Cow parsley may be distinguished from hemlock by its having hairy rather than smooth leaves and stems which, though sometimes purple-tinged, are never purple spotted".

In September there will be blackberries, a few apples off the very old trees, a few wild strawberries in June, and a few gooseberries off the bush near the top. But really there is not much "food for free" unless you are a caterpillar. Catterpillars are starting to eat away at all the leaves. See the photo of the hazel leaf at the top.


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