In June I patiently await each new plant that emerges from the forest floor along my daily walks. In July, I feast my eyes on colour and pick the odd mushroom or batch of greens for salad. By August I have felt the signs and allowed my inner ant to take over from my summer grasshopper. Plastic bags and buckets hanging from my backpack, I get a bit of foraging tunnel vision. In this month, which seems the shortest of months, I have, more than ever, the need to pause and reflect – and the least inclination to do so.
I often find myself, in the midst of picking or pickling, lost in a mental itinerary of what else I ought to do. Deal with the baskets of collected edibles languishing in the root cellar. Visit berry patches that must surely be missing my attention. Clear the drying racks so there is space for the next harvest.
I lament that the time I spend putting up my harvest is not spent collecting, and as I forage, the anticipated processing time becomes oppressive. When I stand up out of the blueberries to stretch out the kinks, my bucket may be half full, but my cup feels strangely empty. Thankfully, sooner or later, a moment of beauty or wonder occurs and shakes me from this alternating frantic or weary reverie. A dragonfly does a flyby, the whirr of its wings like a miniature spitfire, flashing iridescent blue. I am struck by the absolutely gorgeous green of my kimchi brine.
Then I smile. I break into laughter. I laugh, as Ani diFranco says, because the world is absurd, and beautiful, and small. I laugh at myself for choosing list-making over being present in this glorious moment. I laugh to welcome myself back to here and now, and wake up my senses to this grand world around me.
Then I return happily to the task at hand which, this time of year, often involves fermenting – tossing whatever I’ve gathered into a crock and returning to foraging, content that it will evolve on its own until the season has slowed and I have time to jar it for the winter.
Basic Weed-Chi (A Variation on Kimchi)
Throughout the world, people have come up with variations on the theme of salt, vegetables, spices and time. This is my basic method with amounts given for 4kg of greens.
- 1.Collect edible wild weeds (eg: lamb’s quarter, chickweed, strawberry blight, fireweed, wild chives). Remove stems if tough.
- 2.Receive thanks from gardener.
- 3.Weigh greens. You’ll want 0.5-2% salt by weight, ie: 20g/4kg greens.
- 4.Coarsely chop greens and mix in a large bowl with 4 cloves minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of Korean chili flakes, and salt. Get your hands in there and crush everything to start releasing water from the plants.
- 5.Pack into sterilized mason jars or a ceramic crock, and weight the top with a plate or jar of water to keep the weed-chi under the brine which will form by the next morning. If the top dries out, add brine (2% salt solution in water).
- 6.Let sit in a cool place, tasting frequently, then move to root cellar or into jars in the fridge once it is as sour as you like. Keeps all winter!
Kim Melton is an enthusiastic forager and gardener, inspired by all things that make up good, local food.