5.27.2010

The Local Food Report: handy in combat

Ryeon Corsi deserves a round of applause. In September, she came to Provincetown as an AmeriCorp volunteer, and the first task the Conservation Commission dealt her was to tackle this:


If you're not familiar with that pink and green wonder, it's Japanese Knotweed. It is an invasive, brought over, as rumor has it, as an ornamental by Frederick Law Olmsted. The Global Invasive Species Database lists it as one of the world's 100 worst invasives, putting it at number 37. It spreads through an underground network of huge, bulbous rhizomes, making it nearly impossible to kill. It can grow through concrete, and if you pull it up, the spears just grow right back.

It also covers half of the land that the Provincetown Conservation Commission set aside for a community garden on Browne Street. That's where Corsi comes in. Her job is to make this:


Look—without using any herbicides—like this:


It's not an easy task. So far, she's hired a backhoe to break up the roots, worked with a huge group of volunteers to carefully, painstakingly dig the rhizomes out (one particularly nasty specimen was so big it took three people to pick it up out of the ground), and set all the roots on a big tarp. Once they are dry—thoroughly, completely dry—she will either burn them, or compost them, and hope for the best. She knows it will be a year-to-year commitment, and that after she finishes her program in July, the gardeners will have to work to keep it at bay.

But in the meantime, she's been waging war by eating the knotweed. As it turns out, those pink and green spears are edible, at least in the spring, while they're still under three feet high. Corsi describes them as sort of a cross between celery and rhubarb, and for opening day at the garden, she used them to make a strawberry rhubarb pie. It was tricky—the stalks are hollow, and most people recommend peeling them, which made for a lot of meticulous work—but the finished product was a hit.

I haven't found any growing in my neighborhood, but in case you have, this recipe could be very handy in combat.

STRAWBERRY-KNOTWEED PIE

Ryeon Corsi found this recipe on the NOFA website, but it comes originally from an old issue of Yankee magazine. The header says you can substitute rhubarb for knotweed, but it seems to me that would sort of defeat the point. The footer says to look for knotweed in disturbed habitats like roadsides, and to harvest thick stalks no more than 3 or 4 feet high that aren't fully leafed out by cutting a 1 and 1/2 to 2 foot section from the center of the stalk.

As for where to find strawberries, it's still a little bit early, but I ate my first three ( ! ) from the garden the other day. They should be turning up at the farmers' markets in the next two weeks.

4 cups strawberries, washed, stemmed, and halved
3 cups Japanese knotweed, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch crescents
1 and 1/2 cups sugar, plus extra for sprinkling over crust
3 tablespoons cornstarch
dough for bottom and top crusts for a 9-inch pie
3 tablespoons butter
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl, toss together the strawberries, knotweed, sugar, and cornstarch. Roll out your bottom pie crust, drape it over a 9-inch pie plate, and pour the filling in. Dot the fruit with the butter. Roll out the top pie crust and drape it over top. Roll the bottom and top edges together, moving around the edge of the pie, and press the log of dough against the rim of the pie plate as you go. Cut several slits in the top crust, brush it with the egg wash, and sprinkle the dough with sugar. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the filling is soft and bubbling and the crust is nicely browned. Serve hot, with vanilla ice cream.

2 comments :

Emily said...

I recently went on an "Edible Plants Walk" in Franklin Park, right near my house, and at the end we all sat down for a delicious meal of nettle soup and knotweed cake! Who knew that two such dastardly species would be so good to eat? Can't wait to try your recipe. I have a feeling the strawberries will make it even better.

Elspeth said...

Emily,

That sounds incredibly interesting. I've heard you can eat nettles, but I've never found any around here. And knotweed cake—that sounds good!

All the best,
Elspeth

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