Weeds. They’re what’s for dinner.

Weeds. Not a single good reference that I can think of. They’re the things most people throw away. They’re things we pay people to obliterate from our yards. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, it is, “A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

I came across this quote recently and it stirred up a memory I know that I intentionally buried years ago. My grandparents emigrated from Italy in the 50s so when I was young in the 70s they had been here long enough to assimilate into American culture. Right? Not so fast. There was a huge Italian population in our town, at least big enough to have weddings to attend every spring and fall month for 8 solid years. My point here is that they didn’t have to assimilate to fit in, they just moved all their friends and family from Padua and kept on going.

Growing up with a foot in each culture was highly interesting. Kids at school loved learning foreign curse words although the only one I ever used was “funghi”, in english, “Mushroom”. I suppose “fungus” can be a pretty derogatory term though if used appropriately. I brought awesome lunches to school like salami sandwiches although I don’t remember anyone wanting to swap their PB&J with me. We belonged to the Sons Of Italy and had huge parties once a month featuring lots of cheek pinching, eating, and dancing. Good times.

Not everything was “cool” about being different though. The memory that I alluded to earlier doesn’t embarrass me now but I distinctly remember wanting to hide behind a tree when it happened. I grew up a block away from my grandparents in a suburban neighborhood. I frequently walked or biked over to their house and it was not uncommon to see many of our neighbors out and about. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was playing in the front yard of our house when I saw my grandparents walking toward our house. My nonna had a paper bag in her hand. She’d stop every few yards and my nonno would pick something up and put it in the bag and they’d keep moving. They inched toward me like that for about twenty minutes. 

As they neared our driveway I started running down to give them a hug and say hi. I watched my grandfather bend down and pull a knife out of his pocket and dig up a dandelion. He then placed it gently in the brown bag my grandmother was holding open. I was taken aback. Even at that young age I knew this was weird. I never saw anyone else’s grandparents digging up their yard. Also, why did they want dandelions? My only experience with the sunny little suckers was to pop their heads off at my friends and I couldn’t quite imagine my nonno and nonna sitting around doing that with each other. I think I ran back in the house so no one would associate me with what was happening in my front yard.

They didn’t stay and play with me that night, instead they kept their neighborhood weed extermination project going, collecting until their bag was almost overflowing. Dinner the next day finally brought to light what was going on. My humbly immigrant grandparents knew more than a thing or two about food. There was delicious sauteed dandelion greens as a complement to the main course.

My point is that sometimes we get too focused on the exotic foods that are in vogue like fancy superfruits from halfway across the world or mushrooms that only a hog can sniff out.  Local may seem boring but it doesn’t have to be. Pick up some squash blossoms (another one of my childhood favorites!), dredge in egg and flour and flash fry. Or try the dandelion greens. Get over yourself. Who cares if they’re weeds. You’ll be so glad you gave them virtue.

Claudia works in MOM’s central office.

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7 Responses to Weeds. They’re what’s for dinner.

  1. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    Great post! We homeschool and during our botany lesson we learned that the word dandelion means “tooth”. The green leaves have jagged little “teeth”. I think of it everytime I see them.

    Hmm, next time the family asks “what’s for dinner?” I think I will reply “weeds” and then serve them some!

  2. recyclebydeesign says:

    Dandelion is from French “dent de lion” …. lion’s teeth.
    In addition, the French call it a “pissenlit’…which means “urinate in your bed” since it is a diuretic.
    Remember that they should be the youngest of the shoots that one eats…early Spring

  3. Gretchen Dunn says:

    Please get a copy of Bradford Angier’s “Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants” (aka weeds). Not only dandelions, but purslane and milkweed are good, and countless others!

  4. claudiasquips says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation and French lesson! One of my next projects is to try to find a mushroom foraging group in the area. The fungi are especially interesting to me because of their symbiotic relationship.

  5. Deirdre says:

    Don’t forget Euell Gibbons’ book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and his other field guides. I still go by my seventh grader’s elementary school every spring to harvest polk weed, which tastes like a cross between spinach an asparagus. I love it when I see lambsquarter coming up in my yard. It is my main salad ingredient throughout the summer, more nutritious than spinach and just as tasty, and FREE! It is my secret ingredient in my potato salad!

  6. Lois Darr says:

    Not so strange to me. My paternal grandparents were from families here for a few hundred years. In fact one was part Native American. They always collected the Dandelions in the spring. My grandmother once made wine from the blossoms. My husband’s family cooked them with Lamb’s Quarter another “weed”. There are several internet sites devoted to dandelion recipes. I am planning to enjoy my “weeds” this spring.

  7. TineK says:

    My 4′ 10″ grandma, Mimi, moved from Korea in the 70s. She came to visit us in Long Island when I was in elementary school and we took her to the beach. Mimi didn’t play with us in the sand or swim or sunbath, but spend the entire time collecting seaweed from the ocean. Being a preteen- I was completely embarrassed, but this was just the beginning! As we were walking back to the car, my family realized she was missing… we found her shortly after, crouched down in the landscaping picking out weeds for dinner that night!

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