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.