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Don't Buy That Picnic Salad; Find It Near The Blanket

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Don't Buy That Picnic Salad; Find It Near The Blanket


Don't Buy That Picnic Salad; Find It Near The Blanket

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


SIMON: And now to our series about filling your summer picnic basket with good foods that you can carry around. For a couple of Vermont locavores, a locally sourced picnic doesn't mean getting supplied from the farmer's market. No, it means finding a natural salad bar at your picnic spot, maybe even your back yard.

From Vermont Public Radio, Charlotte Albright, tagged along on a wild plant-gathering spree.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT, BYLINE: Nova Kim and Les Hook live on a lush farm between a large lake and the Connecticut River near the Vermont-New Hampshire border. Over the decades, they've become skilled gatherers of edible wild foods, which they sell to high-end restaurants. But on this drizzly day, we're in their own kitchen making dressing for our picnic green salad.

With her gray hair and a skinny braid down her back, Nova grinds dried wild gingerroot. Les, also longhaired, minces up wild ramps and leeks. The pungent bulbs are no bigger than a pencil eraser.

NOVA KIM: And you can use them much like you'd use onion and garlic. It's like a combination of the two, and it can be kind of an intense flavor.

ALBRIGHT: Nova drops about two tablespoons of each wild ingredient in a glass pint jar. She adds about five tablespoons of lemon juice and a cup of melted coconut oil, which she thinks tastes better with wild greens than heavier olive oil.

KIM: This is my kind of mixing, put it in a jar and shake.

ALBRIGHT: Time to head out the door.

KIM: I like people to understand, they can do this right in their own yard.

ALBRIGHT: Nova doesn't always know exactly what she might find beyond their property and it's important, she says, to harvest where there has been no chemical spraying. So before leaving the yard, she tucks some common plants, some might call them weeds, in cellophane bags. Nova and Les say plastic ruins delicate pickings.

LES HOOK: So I'm going to take a little bit of stuff right here.

KIM: Is that going to be enough? Oh, you're doing the henbit?

ALBRIGHT: Henbit has small, dark scalloped leaves and tiny purple blossoms along the stalk. Suburban landscapers hate it, but rural gourmets love it.

KIM: Our chefs compare it to like a balsamic mint.

SIMON: With walking sticks and woven-basket backpacks, Nova and Les head downhill through a pasture toward a stream. They collect dandelions, violet blossoms, wild sedum, sorrel and lots of watercress. As storm clouds gather, we settle down on their stream bank for a healthy al fresco lunch.

HOOK: I'm going to rip this watercress up a little bit, get it a little bit more smaller to eat.

ALBRIGHT: Les tosses the greens in a stainless steel bowl as Nova passes out chopsticks and paper plates.

HOOK: Everybody got their weapons?

SIMON: Their wild salads tend to be finely minced. Each crunch bite of this one tastes a little bitter, a little sweet and a little sour, especially after you add the tangy ginger root dressing. Les munches slowly and offers his trademark maxim.

HOOK: Step out your back door and eat forever more.

SIMON: If you aren't good at identifying plants or knowing which ones are safe, pack a reliable field guide. Les and Nova rarely pull anything out by the roots unless the tubers are what they need most. And they pick most greens toward the top of the stalk so the plants will keep growing and supplying them with fresh salad fixings all summer long.

For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright in Eastern Vermont.


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