The Edible Calendar


Brian KallerGardening takes the natural bounty of roots and tubers, leaves and stems, fruits and nuts, and stretches and pulls them to meet our desires - to appear sooner, later, bigger and more. We start them early indoors as seedlings, prepare their beds, cover them in cloches, weed out their neighbours, pick their pests and prune their misguided growth. We pamper our kohlrabi and celeriac like breeders groom their horses – and they need it, for generations of breeding have made them more sumptuous and fragile than the sea kale and bitter celery-weeds from whence they came. We force our garden plants to our human needs, and we pay the price.

When we forage, however, we accede to Nature’s own tight schedule; those mushrooms that appeared today will likely be slimy tomorrow, and those edible leaves will likely be inedible next week. We picture Stone Age people living by a leisurely rhythm of the seasons, but in fact they needed superb time-management skills.

If summer and autumn supply most of the garden’s bounty, though, spring offers the best foraging, when The Girl and I rummage through the bog-country and return with bushels of foodstuffs, ready to be dried, pickled, frozen and made into wine for the coming year.

The beginning of April here sees the first hawthorn shoots, and for two weeks they remain tender enough to be eaten in salad, sautéed in vegetables, or chopped and thrown into soups. When the hawthorns are in leaf the blackthorns are in flower, and we use this brief window to mark their position among the other trees of the bog-lands; once the blackthorns are done flowering, the trees are unobtrusive and hard to spot among the other trees, and you must know where they are to get their prized autumn sloe fruits.

Shortly after the hawthorn shoots appear, though, the first nettles grow large enough to pick, and the last six weeks have been prime nettle season for us. I’ve written before how nutritious nettles are, and how they can be eaten as a vegetable in their own right, like spinach, or made into tea, beer, soup, kim chi, or put into any number of dishes. I’ve been freezing bags of them to eat this winter, and drying them into tubs of tea to consume through the rest of the year. They are also useful for fibre – I saw an entire wedding dress made of nettle fibre once – but not until later in the year.

Bluebells and other flowers in Irish woodlands. 

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