When I was little, my grandmother taught me about which ferns tasted like licorice and what leaves would make stinging nettles sting less. There are a multitude of wild edibles that one can harvest. In my own hometown of Portland, Oregon, there are wonderful edibles, including dandelions, dock, wild lettuce, blackberry leaves, sorel and hundreds more. Many of these are astringent and add a wonderful complex flavor to something like a fritatta or a salad. But when you look out into a field of weeds…what do you pick? what should you avoid, and which are the really good things?!
Lucky for us, we had an expert who was more than happy to guide us through the fields surrounding the university. Andrea Pieroni is not only our Ethnobiology professor and in charge of academics for the University but also a massive connoisseur of all things wild, edible and green. Our time with Pieroni included a lecture about the mysterious land of Albania and its historical familiarity with native wild greens. Up in their northern mountains, people still live in union with the land. To supplement their diet, Albanians harvest from nearby fields of wild greens. These greens are packed full of vitamins and nutrients that would, otherwise, be absent from daily meals.
On our, roughly, 2 mile forage, we tasted, smelled, picked and foraged through countless wild edibles. Some were really spectacular, some just tasted like a green weed (i did overhear someone mention that they felt cow-like) and some tasted truly horrible. However, all of the greens we discovered had been used by people in this region for a thousand years and were a historical and important part of their health and diet.
After spending a few hours foraging, we wandered back up the hill to Bra and gathered at the Gastronomic Society Villa. The University is using this space, with garden, to develop relationships with the local community, students and faculty around the ideas of cooking and eating together. It is a beautiful space and we took it over to cook up our greens!
Our evening meal included risotto with wild nettles, frittata with dock and sorel, roasted vegetables and local sausages with parsnip greens, salads and panna cotta with wormwood. The university provided the wines. It was a perfect day! I overheard many people exclaim with the shake of a head, that they couldn’t believe how lucky we were or that this was our life for the next 12 months.