My mom always carries a knife in her purse. It's a medium-sized knife, pretty sharp, wedged in the bottom of her bag, and its blade is wrapped in a white handkerchief. She's been known to use it at the most random opportunities, like for example the time we were going out to lunch when she suddenly starting yelling "Stop! Stop the car!", knife already out and ready. She dropped her purse on the car floor, searched the depths of the back seat for a plastic bag or any sort of container (and ended up taking my cd holder), and took off for the middle of the field where she had spotted some innocent dandelions. I just sat in the car and pretended I didn't know her.
If I say Greek food, what's the first dish that comes to your mind? For most non-Greeks, it would be any of the classics, moussaka, tzatziki, gyros, baklava. I bet none of you would say "Dandelions!" But Greeks love eating weeds, wild mallow, wild mustard, dandelions, purslane, milk thistle, they're all considered delicacies and after a good rain the Greek countryside is littered with little old ladies with big knives, searching for the best crop of weeds.
I've never known a more useless and time-consuming food group than weeds. You have to hunch over and dig in the dirt with the knife to get them out with their root intact, shake the dirt off each one of them individually, then you must wash them several times to get all the rest of dirt off and cut any roots that are tough, and you need to do all this as soon as you get home from picking them so they don't wilt. Then you boil them half to death and you serve them with olive oil and lemon, or you stuff them into a pie with some cheese. Okay, I'm not saying they're not good; a nice pie with sow thistle and feta, who can pass that up? So I'll eat the pie but would I go pick the weeds to make it? No, I wouldn't. My mom not only goes to pick the weeds, she considers it the highlight of her week, tells all her friends about it and takes to a select few a piece of the pie or a bowl of the "horta", the green mushy mess that we Greeks are enamored with. Mama and her friends like to exchange weed tips - "there's a field not far, you go past the bakery and turn left and then drive about 20 miles, it has the best donkey thistle!" and they also like to reminisce about great weed moments - "I once found a wild radish that was as big as my hand but so tender!"
Picking weeds is becoming a lost art in Greece, our moms and grandmas are the last generation that knows the difference between wild mallow and poison ivy and there aren't many people nowadays who consider hours spent digging in the dirt for food a form of entertainment. But the thing with my mom is that she doesn't keep her habits in Greece, where other little old ladies also carry knives in their purses for similar reasons, she insists on doing the same thing here when she comes to visit. I've learned to avoid her weed-picking expeditions and even the last time she screamed for me to stop the car because she spottted the perfect patch of purslane in a field next to the sheriff's building, I refused and told her to go back later on her own. I have enough troubles, I don't need a criminal record as well.
During one of her visits in the U.S. she was weed-picking in a field in some ritzy suburb that hadn't been completely developed yet, and a car stopped and the people asked her if she was hungry and needed food. I wonder what the Good Samaritans thought when she showed them her bag of weeds and lectured them about how precious these weeds are and how healthy and good for you they are, "much better than McDonald's!" but mainly I'm just glad I wasn't there because I would have died of embarrassment. Another time she came home with one shoe, the other one had sunk in the muddy field where she was picking weeds and she couldn't get it out. But she said the dandelions in that one field were definitely worth a shoe.
Weed pickers are very particular about where and when they pick their weeds, you can't just pick any old weed from any old field any old time you feel like it. Weed picking can only be done the days after a good, long rain, when the baby weeds are sprouting, and they must be picked before they make flowers. You can't pick weeds from your yard because what if the dog or the cat peed on them? And even if you don't have a dog or a cat, your neighbours have cats and you can be sure that those cats have come over in your yard and peed on the dandelions you might have been interested in picking because cats are mean like that. Also, you can't pick weeds from the middle of an orchard or a vineyard because they'll have pesticides and you certainly don't want to eat pesticides, do you? And you can't pick weeds from the side of the freeway, because they have too much pollution on them. You can only pick weeds from "virgin" fields, uncultivated areas in the middle of nowhere.
The reason I thought of all this is there was some documentary on Greek tv, I don't know what about, I had it on mute. But there was this big field and in the middle of it was a little old lady holding a plastic bag with weeds and waving a big knife at the camera and that just made me think of how I wouldn't really mind a nice piece of dandelion pie.
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