I live at the edge of a bay where land and sea come gently together…we have neither the majesty of extreme mountain ranges nor the fury of open ocean…but enjoy a place of transition, where time has eroded the mountains and salt tides have softened landforms to create marshes rich and green.
In mid-summer, you might spy local folk tramping those rich emerald fields in search of marsh greens. And most are secretive of their perfect picking spots…not wanting to share. I now have a stretch of marsh to call my own, but haven’t yet explored to see what grows there. I do hope I’ll find goosetongue there.
They aren’t a particularly photogenic plant and tend to clump themselves in with other grasses, making them a mite hard to find if your eyes have not become well-tuned to the fleshy slender ‘tongues’.
But in the meantime, I was delighted when a friend dropped by to share the fruits of his picking excursion with me.
The proper way to pick them, is to pinch or cut the largest leaves from the stem, leaving the smaller leaves and root behind to grow again…however, because it’s easier, most tend to pull them from the soft soil, ripping up the roots (as shown). As a result, goosetongue greens are getting harder to find.
We have to be more careful with our resources – people also tend to over-pick fiddleheads too, not leaving some to grow for the coming year.
The first step of preparation is to rinse them well, washing off the marsh mud. I then trim the root ends off.
Goosetongue greens can be boiled or lightly steamed for 5-10 minutes. No salt is needed as they are naturally salty (they do grow on a salt marsh, after all!) . According to Bill Casselman, they are called passe-pierre by the Acadians, who traditionally pickled them for winter use.
I enjoyed mine after tossing with butter and drizzling with white balsamic vinegar. They have a lovely texture and the flavour is salty with a very slight bitter aftertaste. A perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken.
One may find goosetongue greens at local corner stores, but the real pleasure, I think, comes in the gathering…the time spent wading through the marsh grass, listening for the curious whisper of a Nelson’s sparrow – an elusive little bird that looks like he’s been dipped in marsh mud. The pleasure of sunshine, sight and sound…of the subtle smells of the bay, the calls of ducks and glimpses of blue herons and eagles.
I know that my ancestors also gathered these greens…valuing them for the nutrition, taste, and their seasonal delight. Enjoying these gifts the earth has offered…perhaps not ever considering that when you eat of something the land provides, the land enters your blood, it becomes a part of you.
Perhaps that is why I feel so at home here. Perhaps next year, I’ll be gathering just enough…on the marsh I call my own.