Accidental Bounty

As you've all probably heard, the idea of foraging for foods offered up as part of nature's bounty is a very hot topic in the world of the modern chef. Well, actually, it's always been a very popular pastime, but it's only every so often that it comes back into the realm of current trends.

Intentional foraging for foods is certainly a time honored and well respected endeavor, but what about the accidental treasure troves we all stumble across once in a while? There may not be much skill involved, but that doesn't make it any less rewarding to all of a sudden discover something delicious when and where you least expect it.

Here's my tale of the accidental forager: For the past couple of summers I've tried to grow a patch or two of purslane in my yard. I love its succulent, crunchy, mildly tart character, and it's an extremely versatile ingredient. It's great raw in salads, or you can cook it in a variety of ways; as a vegetable component in stews; braised with bacon and garlic; or pickled in vinegar and spices. For some reason, my attempts to grow it always ended in failure, a fact made all the more painful by occasionally spotting small clumps of it poking out of the cracks in broken down sidewalks around our neighborhood. Yesterday morning I was at the park around the corner from our house with my two kids, and all of a sudden I realized that the "weeds" we were stepping all over were hundreds of patches of beautiful, plump purslane sprouting up from the woodchips around the playground equipment!

Needless to say, that trip to the park was cut short in the interest of running home to grab a shopping bag and a knife for harvesting a few pounds of my unbelievably lucky find. After a thorough washing of all the crunchy stems and succulent little leaves, I boiled up a big batch of vinegary, garlicky brine and am now the proud and hungry owner of several jars of "Baker Park Pickled Purslane". Keep your eyes on the ground; you never know what you might find down there.