The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Spring Greens

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1990

Issue: April, 1990

What do you think of when you hear the word "greens" or "spring greens?" Does your mouth begin to water at the thoughts of the first mess of greens cooking on the stove, creating a distinct aroma that only greens lovers would appreciate?

The word "greens" covers a wide variety of edible domestic and wild plants. Everyone has their favorites. They might be turnip tops, mustard greens or the first tender loose leaf lettuce out of the garden. Some people like to add a few radish greens to perk up the flavor of turnip and mustard. The country way to serve that lettuce is to wash it thoroughly; heat bacon or country ham grease and pour the grease over the lettuce, producing the culinary delight called "wilted greens." You might take off on a trek through last year's cornfield to hunt creasy greens, wild mustard, or hunt for the tender young shoots of poke weed pushing up through the ground. I've heard you can't beat poke greens with scrambled eggs.

Some people go no further than their own backyard for dandelion and violet greens. Wild violet greens contain high amounts of vitamin C.

Have you ever hunted water cress? It grows right in the streams and if you haven't tasted it fresh from the water, you don't know what you are missing. It's as cool and crisp as can be, right from Mother Nature's refrigerator. We used to take a salt shaker with us in case we ran across a patch of water cress on a walk through the woods.

While you're out looking for wild greens, add some wild ramps or chives to round out a flavor treat.

Old timers highly valued spring greens and for a good reason. After many months of dried and canned foods, it was more than just a taste treat; it gave them the nutrition of vitamins and minerals that had been missing in their diet. The first mess of greens (portions of greens are always referred to as a "mess"), was almost like a ritual each spring. They thought of it as a dose of tonic that tasted better than most home remedies.

Wild greens are much stronger in flavor than the garden variety. When you cook wild greens, cover the greens in water and bring to a boil. After a few minutes, drain the water away and cover with fresh water and bring to a boil again. Some types of greens need for the water to be changed several times before the excessively strong taste is removed. Country folks usually season the greens with a piece of ham fat or side meat, salt and pepper; after the greens are cooked and on the table, most people add vinegar to their own taste. Greens wilt fast in hot water and cook quickly.