23 August 2013

Eating the Enemy

I was out in the garden, doing what everyone with a garden in these parts does in July: pulling out purslane. I gave it my special attention last year, concentrating on eradicating the cursed stuff completely so I might not have to deal with it this year.

Ha. Purslane always wins. Purslanologists note that one plant can make 32,000 seeds. But I can hold it at bay, taking special care to get the root out—because leave one sliver of taproot and it will be up again in no time. Trying to hoe it only makes more purslane. On hot afternoons I can hear them laughing at me.

To be fair, it’s a rather charming plant, a cousin of the portulaca, with its starburst of creeping stems and glistening, semi-succulent leaves. It’s only coincidence that the Italian word, porcellana, should be the same as for ‘porcelain’, but the delicate colour and the sheen do make the leaves seem as if they were made of celadon ware.

While yanking them out I might nibble on a couple. Purslane when freshly picked does have a pleasantly tart taste. I remembered that the Greeks like it in salads. Back before we even knew what the stuff was, Dana’s relatives back on her father’s Greek island, Ikaria, had given her some to plant at home. Healthiest thing for you, they said. Dana kept it in water until the ride to the airport, and carefully packed it for the trip home. It was not one of the great moments in her life when of all people our daughter, the Queen of Mockery, was the one to notice that the weeds she was ripping out to make room were exactly the same as the stuff she was putting in.

But did we have porcellana in the menu decoder yet? What do Italians do with it? I had to check as soon as I got back inside and washed my hands. Dana had already written a short entry, where she noted that they throw them in salads like the Greeks, and also sauté them with garlic, just as you would do for other greens.

We found a score of local dialect words for them: barzellana, perchiacca, perchiazza, porcacchia, precacchia, pucacchia, purciaca, purchiddana, and on and on. Back in harder times, everyone used to eat them, just as they did in England and France. A little research turned up some recipes: purslane in soups, in malfatti, in omelettes, or fried in batter like courgette blossoms.

The thought was becoming irresistible: if you can’t beat the enemy, eat it. We’ll give it a try, and report back soon. 

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