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Saturday, May 7, 2016

From Spring Woods to Farm Kitchen

You’re probably expecting, from my subject heading, either morels or wild leeks, but I want to introduce you to a less well-known Up North spring delicacy. It is the humble cutleaf (or cut-leaved) toothwort (also known as crow’s toes or pepper root), found from eastern Canada to Florida.

You can walk in the woods for years without noticing it, as I did. Then one day you make the identification, and from then on you watch for it eagerly every spring. Here is a site that keys it as a Brassica, i.e., a member of the mustard family. Its name has apparently been changed, just like my old childhood friend Brontosaurus, whose new name will never be lodged in my long-term memory. -- Whoa! Here’s good news for my generation: Brontosaurus is Back!!! Well, I'm glad I looked that up!

Anyway, toothwort. I am bound and determined to keep in the mustard family. Look at the four-petaled flower, and try to deny the family relationship.

My point – and I realize I’m taking forever to come to it – is that the peppery leaves and flowers of toothwort are a welcome change from the store-bought lettuce (and even kale) we’ve lived on all winter. I went to the woods on Friday afternoon and picked me a nice mess.

I chose the bland smoothness of tofu to offset the peppery greens. (If you don’t make your own tofu but live in the Grand Traverse area, the best available can be found at the Oryana Food Co-op in Traverse City.)

I dressed my salad with a little olive oil and very small dash of balsamic vinegar, whisked together with a smidgeon of Grey Poupon. And that was that, except for a sprinkling of hard-cooked egg yolk on top. If you don’t care for tofu, you might substitute the white from the hard-cooked egg – an easy exchange.

We seem to have strayed far from Paris today, but it’s that time of year – time to get out into the northern Michigan woods. Although I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that toothwort or something like it can be found in the forests of Europe. We are, after all, at about the same latitude, and many of our plants are common to both continents. And who knows better than the French about foraging in the woods for kitchen treasures?


  1. Toothsome . . .

  2. Oh, Gerry, I can always count on you to make me laugh! Tried toothwort greens with Bibb lettuce last night. Chopped hard-cooked egg. Dried cranberries. (All out of cherries.) Very nice.