Cookin’ Up a Mess o’ Creasy Greens
Imagine, in late winter, what the meals of early white settlers in the mountains must have been like. Root cellars stocked with root crops, dried fruit and beans and salted meat would be getting low. By early spring, they would be hankering for something fresh. And there, braving the frost, would be salvation.
Some of the first edible greens to emerge in the fields about mid-March (if not earlier nowadays) are creasy greens, also known as wintercress, a land-loving relative of watercress. Both are called “cress” because their flowers form a cross. That’s true for everything else in the mustard family, including arugula, horseradish, radishes, and broccoli.
The spoon-shaped, many-lobed leaves of wintercress grow out from the center in a rosette. Plants grow 4-6 inches tall then send up a stalk with yellow flowers. The whole plant, including the flowers, is edible. As with collard greens, the outside leaves can be cut repeatedly for a “cut-and-come-again” harvest.
Wintercress is highly nutritious with the classic mustard “bite.” It can be added to salads and soups or, if too bitter or spicy for your palate, stir-fried and eaten alone.
You can sometimes find fresh creasy greens in local grocery stores. This being the south, you can even find them canned. But then, eating fresh, wild greens, especially at the end of winter, is what spring is all about.
Sometimes simplest is best. This basic recipe lets creasies’ pungent, spicy flavor help wake us from hibernation.
1/2 lb. chopped creasy green leaves
1/2 – 1 yellow onion, diced
2-3 tbsp. oil/fat of choice (my granny used bacon grease)
2 tbsp. pepper vinegar
salt to taste
Rinse greens in water. Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat and caramelize the onions. Add creasy greens and sauté a few minutes until the greens darken and tenderize. Add a few splashes of pepper vinegar and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat, add salt to taste, and give thanks that winter is just about over.