Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dandelion Greens


If someone had told me, almost 20 years ago when I first moved to southern Italy, that you could just walk along the side of the road gathering the weeds that grow there . . . and then take them home and eat them, I never would have believed them. I'm a city girl, you see, the kind who thinks of going to the supermarket for food rather than going directly to the source.

My mother-in-law Eva, who is now practically bed-ridden, never went anywhere without a plastic bag and a small knife in her pocket. Just in case she sighted some good-looking plants along the side of the road. She would cry out, "Oh, look, some nice dandelion greens!" and get busy choosing the good ones, discarding the bad, and filling up her bag with her treasures.

I thought she was nuts. I'd never seen anyone do anything like that before!

But, she is from a different world than me, completely. She was born in 1923. People in southern Italy still travelled in horse-drawn carriages for the entirety of her youth. She was a young woman when her town was occupied first by the Germans and then by the Americans during World War II. Her family were large-scale farm owners and over her lifetime she has been both relatively rich and relatively poor. She is accustomed to southern Italian rural logic, often rooted in ignorance and superstition, but also based on solid values like waste not, want not.

Eva - circa 1943
We can no longer take those walks in the country with her like we used to, but sometimes we go out into the countryside behind my house with our plastic bags and little knives to look for dandelion greens. I know it makes my husband happy to be doing something that he used to do with his mother, and my sons enjoy having that connection, too.

I'm still hopeless at identifying the weeds from the edible greens, but our sons seem to have inherited her eye for it.

12 comments:

LindyLouMac said...

Your mother in law sounds very similar to my wonderful neighbour, who still lives this sort of lifestyle, although born in the late forties. She has taught us to enjoy the food for free available on our land, a different way of life that thankfully is still surviving in Italy but for how much longer?

Venassa said...

It would be strange to me as well, but it sounds like such a nice, enjoyable thing for your family. IT seems like a great tradition.

Francesca said...

I wish I had that eye and knowledge - which you can only get if you were actually born and raised in the country. I hope your mother-in-law is well, and can pass on many more secrets and insights to the future generations!

April said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I've never been to Italy, but I would LOVE to go sometime-so fun you get to live there!

Scintilla said...

I weeded at Positano a few days ago. My husband was horrified that I'd put edible weeds with those destined for the compost heap. He sorted them out and they were delicious!

citymouse said...

I enjoyed reading this post. My family lived in a predominately Italian neighborhood in New York City when I was growing up. It was not uncommon to see older Italian ladies doing exactly what you described (albeit, a much harder task in NYC).

My current neighbor was born in the early 40s in France and he is of the same school.

There's something intriguing in a person valuing something the rest of us overlook. Like a secret gem.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I empathise vas I'm a city girl too. But I do love those edible greens.

Dacia said...

Thanks for the blog visit and kind comment. I wouldn't know what was edible either ;) That's so cool that you live in Italy. My husband's family immigrated from Sicily. We'd so love to visit there someday!!

Fa L'Americana said...

My mother used to tell me about her grandmother scouring the lawn for dandelion greens... a memory that actually makes her grimace a bit since they used rather strong chemicals/fertilizer on their grass... so she's not sure what they might have consumed whenever her grandmother made one of her dandelion salads.

heather@actingbalanced.com said...

the linky for Stumble tumble is finally working, so you can add this to the linky and stumble some other posts... I've stumbled this post :)

Casalbordino said...

I go directly to the source - my own garden.
http://casa-giardino.blogspot.com/2010/10/last-night-dinner-dandelions-fava-beans.html

Ruth said...

This sounds wonderful...coming from a city girl:-) It is also a great way to continue that family tradition through to your kids. Thanks for following me, returning the follow:-)