It’s almost here. Spring officially began last week, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a long winter. I don’t want to eat kale or potatoes anymore. I am ready for 60-degree days.
Even though the woods of Pennsylvania are still looking rather bleak, I can tell the worst is past us. There’s a new thickness to the air; a sweetness I haven’t felt since last year. Elvis (my dog and foraging buddy) knows it, too. His paws are caked with the mud that was frozen solid just two weeks ago.
Every year at this time, I end up at the exact same spot. I stand, staring, at the patch of wild watercress that has been growing in the woods as long as any member of the family can remember. I just stand there, and I stare at it. And I breathe the sweet air of early spring, knowing that any day now, the watercress won’t be alone. Soon, there will be enough food growing here for a whole meal.
But not yet.
Elvis, who, two weeks ago, was visible against the snow, is not a fan of salad. He watched me skeptically as I gingerly crept through the brambles and popped a single leaf of cress in my mouth. The leaf was as cold as the water it grew in, until I chewed for long enough that it exploded with peppery fire.
Watercress (which grows in slow-moving, spring-fed streams) is a member of the cabbage family. So are mustards and turnips and radishes. Most of the spicy veggies, not surprisingly, are related. As this cress gets older it will also become more pungent. Sometime around the beginning of May, it’ll make a grown man cry. We have so much to look forward to.
I’ll be back here then, to collect more than I could ever use. I’ll serve it puréed in a soup, sautéed as a side dish, or raw as a salad. Both the possibilities and the bounty will be endless.
Until then, I’ll start looking for the less predictable, harder-to-find wild edibles, like fiddleheads, ramps, and cattail shoots. It’s going to be a delicious spring.