Saturday, May 28, 2011

Florida Weeds: Pests or Culinary Treat

Recently I attended a weed trial workshop put on by professors from University of Florida/Belle Glade Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) office.

There were several farmers at the event and we all got to talking about the biggest weed pests here in south Florida. Surprisingly all the weeds we talked about turned out to be edible.

Purslane (pictured below): is a succulent plant with yellow flowers. It can be eaten fresh in salads or cooked and used as a thickener like Okra.
Lambs Quarters, a leafy green used fresh in salads, it is sometimes confused with wild Amaranth
Amaranth, also known as Callaloo, is similar to wild spinach and is best cooked. It has a red stem and different shaped leaves from Lambs Quarters.
Nutsedge Grass (related to Chufa), is gathered for it tubers or nuts which are roasted before eating.

Many of the farmers have had people from Central and South America and from the Islands pick these weeds out of their fields.

I tried some Purslane and found it surprisingly good tasting. And suggested to the farmers they get a big time chef to cook a famous dish with one of these weeds to put it on the culinary map. Then instead of using herbicides to get rid of the weeds, the farmers could grow them and make a profit. Many laughed.

Later, I saw Jodi Swank of Swank Specialty Produce selling cultivated Purslane at the West Palm Beach Green Market for $4 a bunch. She said it was a favorite with her CSA members.

Then, just the other day, I found some Purslane growing in a slightly shaded are of my yard. Salad anyone?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bug Splatter Solution: A Florida Road Trip Story

On Saturday, my husband noticed an increase of flying Love-Bugs in the air. I thought nothing of it until Monday when I drove from Palm Beach Gardens to a farm just North of Indiantown, Florida.

As I left the security of industrial bug sprays and lawn maintenance programs the number of bug hits went on the windscreen went from just a dozen to thousands. It was like a Hitchcock movie except this time the lead characters had six legs instead of two.

I learned long ago using windshield wipers and water alone did little to clear off insect carcasses. It just liquidated the bug guts and smeared them across the windscreen in a milky paste making it even harder to see through.

Rubbing alcohol and Windex, two other suggested solvents for this problem, did no better. The best solution is soap, water, and a large scrubbing brush. But I don't often carry these items for short road trips.

I was about to pull over to clean my window when the air cleared. I was half way to Indiantown. I realized by shifting my butt slightly to the left I could see through a section of clean glass and continue.

No sooner had I made this decision than BLAM! I drove through a cloud of bugs so thick I thought I was in an insect blizzard. Their carcasses piled up so fast that I had no choice but to use my wipers.

Panic screamed in my ear as the gooey white mess of a million Love-Bug guts spread across the windscreen. I searched for a clean spot to look through and found none.

What was I going to do? Slow down. Calm my mind. Panic would only kill me.

When I calmed down an odd factoid entered my mind: Coca-Cola is so corrosive it can polish copper pennies. Well if it can do that, I thought, it can certainly dissolve bug guts. The decision was made: get to Indiantown, buy some Coke, pour in on the windscreen and see what happens.

Patiently I drove, and 20 minutes later pulled into a Circle-K gas station and parked. I bought a quart sized bottle of Coca-Cola with water chaser; I had run out of wiper fluid.

I poured the Coke on the passenger-side windscreen, in case it did more damage than good. I watched the liquid fizz at it hit the bug juice. I rubbed the surface with my hand to help the cleaning process and finished with a water rinse.

My experiment worked better than expected! The windscreen had never been so sparkly.  The rest of the bottle went to cleaning the driver-side. The only negative detail was the increase of honey Bee attention.

I made it to the farm with ease.

On the way home, I bought some more Coca-Cola and water, used it again and arrived back into civilization unscathed by my Love-Bug ordeal.