Forest Journal: Sweet revenge on an invasive plant
Japanese knotweed is at its tastiest when the stalks are about 8 to 12 inches tall. (BRENDA CHARPENTIER)
Strawberry Knotweed PieFrom "Wild Plants I Have Known ... and Eaten," by Russ Cohen
Pie dough for a 9-inch pie plate:
Exactly 1-2/3 cups white flour
5 tbsp. butter (should be cold)
5 tbsp. vegetable shortening or lard (should be cold)
7 tbsp. cold apple or orange juice
Put flour into food processor. Cut up shortening into big pieces and add to food processor - the less handling the better. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Add cold juice and pulse until mixture begins to ball up and the blade stops or slows substantially. Dump mixture onto wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.
1 cups sugar
3+ cups sliced strawberries
3+ cups peeled, sliced Japanese knotweed stalks (cut each piece in half length-wise to reduce any trapped air space inside)
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut ball of dough in half, roll out one half into a circle about 1/8-inch thick, adding flour to the board/pin/dough if sticky. Place in pie plate. Mix filling in bowl; if runny juice accumulates in bottom of bowl, stir a tablesppon or so of flour into the mixture. Pour filling into pie plate. Roll out second half of dough and place on top of filling or cut into 1/2-inch strips, and place over filling in a lattice pattern. Trim all but 1/2 inch of surplus dough from pie plate rim. Crimp dough together along pie plate edge with fork. Poke 6-12 holes in top crust (if not lattice) with fork. Place on a cookie sheet, and insert into center rack of oven. Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees, then 25 minutes more at 400 degrees. Pie is done when juice oozes out the top crust and begins to run onto the cookie sheet. If the crust is getting too brown in one or more places before the rest is done, place a small piece of aluminum foil over that spot to stop further browning.
My son and I had parked the van along a quiet back road on Tuesday evening and hopped out. He wielded a knife, and I wielded a camera. By the time the officer slowed his cruiser to a stop, we were so engrossed in our task, we didn't even notice we were under surveillance.
"Oh! Just fine - thanks!" I said, waving cheerfully.
Actually, everything was more than fine. Having found a patch of Japanese knotweed that was just the right size for harvesting, we were happily cutting stalks, taking pictures and talking about knotweed muffins, coffee cake and pie.
Have you seen this bad boy? You probably have clumps of it near you, and you probably pass massive patches of it along the roads. An FBI most-wanted poster would describe it like this: "Grows in bunches up to 13 feet tall, mainly along highways and along rivers. In spring, be on the lookout for dried brown stalks from last fall that lie in crumpled, messy piles. New shoots look like innocent asparagus stalks with a reddish tint, but are hollow and crisp. Use caution."
It's so pervasive along highways and rivers because it spreads by sending forth both its seeds and by its roots. Any bit of root that breaks off and lands in soil can sprout a new population, so snowplows spread it along roadways while natural ice scouring spreads it along rivers.
Cohen's book has a chapter devoted to knotweed called "If You Can't Beat It, Eat It." It contains a delicious knotweed-strawberry pie recipe (including tips for a great crust from his baker mom). My son has baked this pie each spring since attending one of Cohen's workshops, which sparked what I suspect will be a lifelong interest in foraging for wild edibles.
Some caveats: Never pick knotweed in an area you suspect has been sprayed with herbicides. That's why I stick to the back roads or areas away from roads altogether and inspect the patch to make sure it looks healthy. And be careful with stalks you cut but don't eat; if they land in moist dirt, say in your back yard, they could sprout.One person who won't be eating his enemy anytime soon is Cygan, who has spent the last two years spraying knotweed clumps along highways with a 5 percent solution of Roundup. "Oh, no - I hate those things. The last thing I want to do is consume them," he said.
If you want to try eating knotweed, first cut stalks when they're 8 to 12 inches tall. Peeling them is optional. Steam them for two to three minutes or use them in recipes calling for rhubarb. Fot additional recipes, go online to www.newenglandwild.org, the website of the New England Wildflower Society, and search for Cohen's knotweed recipes, or try eattheinvaders.org/Japanese-knotweed.
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